List: Ten Novels and Short Stories That Would Make Good Movies

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07302008_bridesheadrevisited.jpgBy Maud Newton

Adapting fiction for the screen has always been a tricky endeavor. For every “Apocalypse Now,” “The Big Sleep” or “Rebecca,” there are scores of butchered classics and box office duds, and in recent years, Hollywood has only continued to perfect its reverse-alchemy process, transforming narrative gold into the dullest, heaviest lead, topped off with a giant packet of saccharine.

For details, see Roland Joffe’s “The Scarlet Letter,” featuring a pearl-bedecked, shiny-bodiced, utterly vacuous Hester Prynne, or the soul-sucking “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which drove the Guardian’s John Patterson to call for a ban on the making of all movies based on books. It’s easy to sympathize. We’re talking, after all, about the machine that reduced Zoë Heller’s brilliantly satirical “Notes on a Scandal” — a teacher’s obsessive chronicle of her female colleague’s affair with her young male student — to a cautionary tale with all the subtlety of “Fatal Attraction.”

Still, the best fiction can offer what most industry vehicles don’t: a compelling narrative, vivid characters, surprising but realistic plot twists — and sometimes all three. It’s hard not to imagine how “The Secret History” and “A Confederacy of Dunces” would play out as films, had they not gotten sucked into the black hole of pre-production. Some books — like Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men,” so stripped-down novelistically, it tended to read like stage directions — actually work better on screen.

Julian Jarrold recently took his own cinematic run at Evelyn Waugh’s magnum opus “Brideshead Revisited,” contending with not only the daunting original text but the beloved 1981 miniseries. Amid all the reviews and speculation, I’ve been thinking about novels and short stories I’d like to see adapted. Ten of my top picks are below. Add your own wish list in the comments.

07302008_dividedkingdom.jpgRupert Thomson’s “Divided Kingdom”

Overnight the entire population of Great Britain is administered a personality test and reassigned to one of four quadrants based on an ancient system of psychology that divides people into groups: choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine. Thomson’s very young, sanguine narrator is ripped from his melancholic parents, sent to a reprogramming camp, and assigned to a new family where the father mourns the absence of his wife, and the hot older sister consumes the boy’s fantasies. As our narrator grows older, he plays by the rules, even becoming a trusted civil servant, until, by virtue of his job, he crosses into the phlegmatic quarter and is contaminated — and captivated — by the depressive mysticism of the place. Slipping off to a mysterious nightclub, he’s snapped out of his chronic, low-level malaise by visions and concrete memories of his parents. When a bomb goes off shortly before he’s due to return home, he takes advantage of the chaos and goes underground.

Colson Whitehead’s “The Intuitionist”

Set in a city much like New York, but before the Civil Rights Era, “The Intuitionist” centers on the unexpectedly fascinating intrigues of the Elevator Inspectors Guild, whose members pledge allegiance either to the Empiricist, or, yes, Intuitionist mode of inspection. The Empiricists search for defects, while Intuitionists just sense them. With a hardboiled momentum that recalls Dashiell Hammett and a satiric vision that builds on Ishmael Reed’s, Whitehead’s first novel opens as young “colored” Intuitionist Lila Mae Watson learns that a high-profile elevator she inspected just days before has crashed. The accident casts doubt on the Intuitionist school, and leads Watson to suspect foul play.

07302008_theendofmry.jpgScarlett Thomas’ “The End of Mr. Y”

Ariel Manto, an aimless and dodgy-looking but very smart grad student with a penchant for callous men and willingness to submit to light bondage, is finally settling on a thesis topic when her adviser disappears. She discovers among his belongings the only remaining copy of a Victorian novelist’s last book, “The End of Mr. Y,” from which she learns to make a mysterious concoction involving charcoal and holy water. Drinking it transports her into another dimension where mice talk, CIA agents hunt her and the whole world depends on what she does next. Recovering English majors: think Derrida, the video game.

Pagan Kennedy’s “Confessions of a Memory Eater”

Win Duncan, a historian whose career took off and then fizzled, has settled into a bland professorial career and even blander marriage when an old friend offers him the chance to test Mem, an experimental drug that allows the user to relive any moment in his or her past. Soon Win is addicted, avoiding real life to live in his memories. When he loses his job and his wife, he’s left only with a limited supply of drugs and mounting questions as to the veracity of the experiences to which he keeps returning.

07302008_jeremythrane.jpgKate Christensen’s “Jeremy Thrane”

Jeremy Thrane, the unemployed and slightly paunchy kept man of a hunky, closeted and very married movie star, worries that his relationship and lifestyle are in jeopardy as the actor grows critical and detached and seems increasingly focused on his wife. When a gossip columnist overhears Jeremy complaining at a party, and questions the actor’s orientation in print, our narrator finds himself kicked out of his cozy brownstone and adrift in New York City.

James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”

After his fiancée goes on vacation, a young and closeted American living in post-World War II Paris begins an affair with poor Italian bartender Giovanni. Torn between passion for his lover and the conventionality his father has always expected of him, the narrator finds solace for a time in Giovanni’s room, but abandons him in favor of the straight life, with its bourgeois comforts. Later he regrets his decision, but he’s too late to change Giovanni’s tragic fate.

07302008_theseathesea.jpgIris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea”

This highly allegorical 1978 Booker Prize winner is the journal of an idealistic lothario director who retires to live the simple life, alone or perhaps with a comely companion, in a very strange seaside house. For the first few days he’s content to exult over afternoon swims and meals of crusty bread, good cheese and table wine, but soon he spies his first love in a nearby town, and though she’s shockingly gray and wrinkled for a woman of her age, resolves to break up her marriage and unite with her once and for all. Soon he’s sending unhinged letters, orchestrating strained encounters, and peering into windows.

Victor LaValle’s “The Ecstatic”

An enormous, intelligent and highly delusional Cornell undergraduate is rescued from his squalid Ithaca apartment by his mother, sister and grandmother, who return with him to the family home in Jamaica, Queens. There they functionally imprison him, but are clearly also a little bit afraid. They cower in bathrooms as our hero makes atrocious breakfasts covered in ketchup. “I expected more sympathy,” he says. “I wasn’t the first one in my bloodline to go zipper-lidded.” And indeed, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that any return to sanity will come in spite, rather than because, of his family.

07302008_drinkingcoffeeelsewhere.jpgZZ Packer, “The Ant of the Self” (from “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”)

A college-bound debate champ borrows his mother’s car to pick his hustler father (and his mother’s very unwelcome ex-husband) up from jail. He intends to drop the man off and return home, but soon finds himself on a cross-country trek with a load of screeching exotic birds that his dad hopes to unload in Atlanta at the Million Man March.

Chris Adrian, “Promise Breaker” (from his new collection, A Better Angel)

In this harrowing story, a man’s son, Carl, is either possessed by a furious horde of demons, or exacting revenge on his father for the events of September 11, 2001, and his mother’s disappearance. The boy issues punishing indictments in a strange, multilayered voice, and returns to his angelic, boyish self only when the man slams his fingers in drawers. “What do you want?” the father asks. “You know it,” the voices say from Carl’s mouth. “Every day we tell you. Justice. Satisfaction. Vengeance.” The penance required by the demons — or by Carl — only escalates.

[Photo: “Brideshead Revisited,” Miramax Films, 2008]

Maud Newton blogs at MaudNewton.com.

This list marks day 31 of IFC’s List Month — check out our entire list of lists here.

Gigi Does It Ice Skating

Gigi's Ready, Are You?

5 Ways to Get Ready for Tonight’s Gigi Does It

Catch Gigi Does It Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

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Garfield might hate Mondays, but now that Gigi Does It is in its new time slot Mondays at 10:30P ET/PT, it’s your new favorite day of the week. Here are five ways you can get ready for tonight’s all-new episode.

1. Watch David Krumholtz Become Gigi

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Wondering how David Krumholtz transforms into Gigi? Check out a video time lapse to see the incredible work that goes on behind-the-scenes of Gigi Does It.

2. Get in Touch With Your Inner Kristy Yamatushy

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This week Gigi and Ricky hit the ice. Will they fall flat or soar like Olympic great Kristy Yamtushy?

3. See the Video That’s Too Hot for Facebook

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Gigi has a filthy mouth that is NSFW and Not Safe for Facebook. Check out the video Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want you to see.

4. Read Gigi’s Book “Call Your Grandmother”

Call Your Grandmother

Gigi became an author recently when she self-published her heartwarming children’s book about the perils of forgetting to call your dear grandma. Read the story that could give Go the F**k to Sleep a run for its money on the bestseller charts.

5. Put on Something that Highlights Your Kishkes

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You’ll want to slip into something comfortable when you watch Gigi. Just ask poor Ricky.

Jake Johnson

Jake Brings the Funny to CB!B!

Jake Johnson’s 10 Funniest Quotes

Catch Jake Johnson on Comedy Bang! Bang! tonight at 11P ET/PT on IFC.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

There’s just something likable about Jake Johnson. Sure, he often plays surly drunks in everything from indie films like Drinking Buddies to Fox sitcoms like The New Girl, (heck, he’s even the inspiration for Drunk History) but off-screen he’s known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. In honor of Jake’s guest spot on this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we thought it was high time to share some of his most quotable moments from film and TV. See if you can spot just how drunk he is below.

1. On his resemblance to a turtle…

Ora TV

Ora TV

2. In rain or shine, the sex mail man will always be there.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

3. Beware Jurassic World’s most fearsome dinosaur!

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

4. Outer space horse = unicorn?

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

5. Wasn’t there a “Real Sex” episode about that?

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

6. Jake always has your back.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

7. Age is just a number. A large, scary number.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

8. Personal hygiene is important.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

9. To be fair, John Lithgow’s minister character was pretty scary.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

10. Always drink responsibly, lest you forget where you put your keys.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

Ghostbusters II 1920

Ghostbusters Sitcom

See What Ghostbusters Would Look Like As an ’80s Sitcom

See what happens when Ghostbusters meets Charles in Charge.

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Have you ever wondered what Ghostbusters would be like if it was a little more like Bosom Buddies? Check out our video that reimagines the Ivan Reitman comedy classic as a 1980s sitcom straight out of the Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains playbook. Ghostbusters with a peppy ’80s theme song is guaranteed to make you feel good.

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Bob & David Are Back

Watch David Cross, Bob Odenkirk and Scott Aukerman in the Hilarious ‘With Bob & David’ Trailer

Catch David Cross in the return of Todd Margaret on January 7th at 10P on IFC.

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David Cross (Todd Margaret), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman are back with the trailer for the long-awaited Mr. Show “non-reunion” reunion, W/ Bob & David.

The upcoming Netflix sketch comedy show reunites Bob and David with Mr. Show writers and performers John Ennis, Jay Johnston, Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn and Mr. Hot Saucerman himself, Scott Aukerman. But this is not a Mr. Show reunion. In March, Odenkirk told Rolling Stone that W/ Bob & David is “a new sketch-comedy show featuring the writing and performing of the great and special Bob and David and please use those terms because it’s like [the] King of Pop — the Great and Special Bob and David.”

Still, Bob and David fans will notice that the new show tackles topics like time travel, police interrogations and eccentric tech wizards with the same absurdist wit that made Mr. Show a comedy classic. Also, lots of wigs. You can’t have a sketch show without wigs.

After you’ve binge-watched W/ Bob & David in November, be sure to catch David in the third season of Todd Margaret when it premieres Thursday, January 7th at 10P ET/PT on IFC. The first three episodes of the six-episode series air back-to-back on January 7th, with the remaining three episodes premiering the following week on Thursday, January 14th at 10pm ET/PT. Finally those cans of Thunder Muscle you’ve been hoarding for a rainy day will come in handy.

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