Category Archives: book review

Always Better Than the Movie

When looking for a graphic for this post, I learned that this thingy is called a "clapperboard." You're welcome.

I just finished reading The Talented Mr. Ripley. I saw the movie years ago and thought it was pretty blah, so I never bothered with the book. But then my friend Jen praised Patricia Highsmith, and she’s never steered me wrong with her book recommendations, so I picked up Ripley at the library.

Boy, did the moviemakers jack that one up.

Matt Damon played Ripley all wrong, although that may have been the fault of the script since so much of Tom’s scheming is just in his head. Gwyneth Paltrow is horribly miscast, since her appearance is the opposite of every word used to describe Marge except for “blonde” and “female.” And Jude Law is too smarmy (although that describes Jude Law pretty much all the time).

They even changed the plot, putting a completely different ending on the movie, which seems designed to make Ripley more sympathetic when he doesn’t really deserve that. Ripley’s the bad guy—that’s what’s interesting and unique about the way the book plays out.

The story is exciting and engaging from the first few pages—Highsmith throws you right into an intriguing plot while giving you hints of a mysterious backstory, which comes together piece by piece throughout the book. It’s what I’m striving for as I work on my novel manuscript.

That’ll show me, letting a crappy Jude Law movie (yes, I blame him, just because I can) dictate my reading choices.

What are your favorite book-to-movie adaptations? Which ones are the Worst Ever?

Photo: Courtesy of Shaka, Wikimedia Commons

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Filed under book review, movies, writing

What a Character!

I just finished reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, an extremely well-reviewed new book by Jennifer Egan.

Egan deftly juggles many different points of view, frequently shifting between characters and between first and third person. There are also numerous points in time, but instead of using headings, she gives us clever hints in the text that tell us where we are in time, such as mentions of the characters’ clothing or music choices. When I read that a character’s teenage friends are discovering grunge, I know we’re in the early ’90s.

She also uses the “we’re all connected” theme much more creatively than so many other authors and screenwriters who have tried. When characters we’ve met previously turn up in other characters’ stories, it happens seamlessly, without any ridiculous plot twists to engineer it.

From a writing standpoint, it’s a technical marvel. And yet… I didn’t love it.

In fact, there was so much that I liked about this book, I had to think for a long time to figure out why I felt so unsatisfied when I was finished. I eventually realized that it was because I never got the chance to get emotionally involved with any of the characters. With so many characters and so many points of view, Egan doesn’t give the reader a chance to stay with one of them for very long. I never had time to get really attached.

When I read fiction, emotional engagement is important to me. I want to feel good or bad based on what happens to the characters that I love or hate. I want to miss them when the book is over. Unfortunately, no one from the Goon Squad stuck with me long enough for that to happen.

I recently read a book on novel writing where the author said that the characters are the most important part of a story, that everything else should be driven by the characters. I have learned that, at least for me, this is absolutely true. Some of the characters in my novel are just sketches, and before I keep plowing ahead, I think I need to fill some of them out more.

How about you? Are the characters the most important element of the books you love? What book character is your all-time favorite and why?

 

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Filed under book review, characters