Several weeks ago, news broke that HBO is currently developing a television adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” with Franzen and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) working on the screenplay, and production set to begin in January. Casting news soon followed. Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest signed on to play Alfred and Enid Lambert, the aging couple at the novel’s center who are desperate to get their family back together for one final Christmas. Then, it was released that Ewan McGregor had also signed on for the role of Chip, the Lambert’s wayward son who, in the novel, has a quite memorable scene with a side of smoked salmon. (It is still unclear if this will be a series or a mini-series, such as the great Mildred Pierce.) Needless to say, the literary blogosphere swooned at the news; the movie rights for the acclaimed novel have long been sitting unused, and many of the actors originally mentioned for the roles back when the novel was released in 2001 are no longer eligible to play the parts. If this project were to ever materialize, this seems like the perfect way for it to happen. HBO is known for risk-taking and quality productions, and gives artists the creative freedom necessary for tough choices. Cooper, Weist, and McGregor are dream actors for the roles, especially Wiest, who seems born to play the neurotic and perpetually worried Enid. And with Franzen and Baumbach penning the script, a perfect project seems all but guaranteed.
So why am I worried?
“The Corrections” is hands down my favorite book. I vividly remember reading it on those frightening days immediately following 9/11, devouring the family tale instead of focusing on the horrors that presented themselves on every television, newspaper, and person I came into contact with. It was a dark, jittery time for everyone. I was finishing my undergraduate degree in film and television production, and every class I attended seemed pointless compared to the feeling of terror and desperation our nation was experiencing. People were jumping to their deaths instead of going down with a collapsing skyscraper. Why should I bother learning acute lighting and camera placement? So I read instead. I lost myself in “The Corrections.” I dropped out of life for a few days and buried myself in a book, stopping only to eat and sleep. (One day, I actually went to school and read on campus, just outside of the classroom where I was supposed to be, to ease the guilt of skipping class.) Franzen’s writing was so clear, so powerful, and his characters so vivid. “The Corrections” was the perfect book for those days, a narrative both familiar and original, and somehow it made the world seem a little better place. This sounds dramatic, but the times were dramatic, and meaning in any shape was at a premium. But the power of the novel, what sets it apart from simple escapism or entertainment, is that I would have probably dropped out of life to read the novel even if the world were not blazing down around me. “The Corrections” is the novel of the 2000’s, Oprah be damned, and a work that captured our life with such distinction that no disaster could diminish its power.
For me, it resides in perfect form on the pages in my imagination, a marvelous synthesis between author and reader. A movie, no matter how good, could never take that experience away from me, but what it could do is change it around the edges. My Enid is not Dianne Wiest, and I don’t want her to be. I want her to be the Enid I loved and despised while reading the book, the one I saw in my head. To me, that is the real Enid and always will be. But to even think of the actors involved in the roles slightly changes what I know, and this is what I don’t want to have happen. Even imagining it on television even alters my perception of the novel. I worry that something that meant to be read should stay that way, even at the risk of sounding elitist. Do we need to adapt everything?
So, will I watch “The Corrections” when it eventually airs? Absolutely. In fact, I am excited to see it. I might even have people over for it. But I will reread the novel first to keep fresh and reinforced in my mind. Some things are too perfect to lose, even to Diane Wiest.
What novels have you read that you don’t want to see adapted to the screen?