Franzen: the Silver Fox Tackles the Silver Screen

So, it’s official, or as official as something can get in Internet terms (for which, in my mind, the Huff Post qualifies): Jonathan Franzen has an HBO series in the works with filmmakers Scott Rudin and Noah Baumbach based on his 567-page 2001 novel, THE CORRECTIONS.

Pardon the coupling of this exciting news with an overwhelming amount of hyperlinks.

Since the moment I finished Franzen’s intricately woven family narrative and snapped its back cover shut with a satisfied sigh, I’ve had the idea that any 21st-century reader is likely to have after finishing a book they like: “This would make a great movie.” We are, for better or for worse, living in the era of adaptations, remakes, and homages, and Franzen’s subject matter—the family Lambert determined to have One Last Christmas as their world deteriorates around them—seemed ripe for the scripting.

Immediately, though, I had the thought-recoil that anyone with the aforementioned thought is bound to have: Nah, this wouldn’t play well on the big screen. They’d have to cut out too much! It would be a shame to see these characters’ lives abbreviated.

Because it IS a hulking behemoth of a novel. As fiction by today’s standards, it runs in the upper echelon of tomes, and any publisher takes a risk when books this physically large round out their list. (Many thanks, of course, to FSG for injecting post-Y2K America with this work. Your risks were, I assume, rewarded.)

At any rate, as a fan of any book that gets the official go-ahead, you get nervous. With certain skepticism, you think, “Right, great. Just watch them try to fit this into a 90-minute timeframe and it’ll be MY favorite scene from the book that gets cut out.” Franzen’s deal with HBO, however, stipulates (however tentatively) that the series will run for four seasons, and thus last FOUR YEARS. Doesn’t this basically pose the opposite problem from the one readers have always had?

Yes, yes, behemoth of a novel. But how much is TOO much time to afford it?

Will we tire of Chip and his failure to grip reality in his adult life? Will we tear our hair out watching episode upon episode of Gary’s wife Caroline break him down piece by piece with her sly manipulative ways? Is there ever a polite way to say that, much as we love Enid, we’d have to move at LEAST as far away as Lithuania just to get away from her stifling motherhood? And, spread over separate seasons, will Denise’s choices seem more contrived whereas condensed into her section of the novel they seemed perfectly reasonable?

We shall see. I think it will depend as much on the casting (Anthony Hopkins rumored for Alfred Lambert!) as it does upon the writing team, who also developed The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I thoroughly adored. It’s interesting, though, to have such hesitation. When we’re presented with a novel that has won awards and is published by a house we know and love, we dive right in without forethought. But once we’ve snapped that back cover shut, to me, at least, it feels like I’ve been handed some of the subsidiary rights, upon which no one else may infringe….unless they read the book and have the exact same thoughts about it that I did. My thoughts, at present, are rooted only here: THE CORRECTIONS has one of the best last lines of any book I’ve ever read, and I’ll wait four years to make sure HBO honors it, word for word.

Read the book. Read the whole thing, and make sure Hollywood is held accountable for what you love.

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3 thoughts on “Franzen: the Silver Fox Tackles the Silver Screen

  1. The concept of a ‘four season version of the book’ initially concerned me, given the fact that the series’ entire trajectory is confined by what already happens in the book. But the interview with Remnick in the HuffPost article actually makes me more optimistic – by visiting flashbacks and more thoroughly exploring points that the book just referenced, there may be some real material to last four seasons without boring the audience.

    Also, I am much more confident in a project like this coming out of HBO – if it were ABC, or even a movie, I’d be much more skeptical. HBO is home to some of the best screenwriting out there, in my opinion.

  2. dbcreads says:

    Definitely in agreement there. Network television is capable only of diluting adaptations because of all their FCC restrictions, and HBO’s writing quality is more consistent than many of the Hollywood filmmakers you could pass the project off to (who would then hire generic, inoffensive house writers and likely accompany the story with a horrific-yet-highly-marketable soundtrack), With four years on a premium cable channel, there is, at least, time to slowly build an audience rather than aiming for a sensational premiere as a film or a network show would. I still wonder, however, if four seasons is too much to commit to shaping this story around, because you don’t want to overdevelop the narrative in places where Franzen purposely let us (the audience) fill in the blanks.

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