Sunday, August 20, 2006

Factotum and the Memory Keeper's Daughter

Last month, I mentioned that I was reading "The Memory Keeper's Daughter," by Kim Edwards, author of one of the short stories I heard read at "Selected Shorts." I liked it then, although by the end of the novel felt less enthusiastic. The writing is beautiful, but the story goes on and on and on without getting very far. In time, it travels nearly thirty years, jumping back and forth between a number of narrators, but in each we're inside the head of someone who repeats the same obsessions and fears they had in a previous narration, a decade earlier. I still enjoyed it, but would recommend it with some reservation.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see it listed as #1 in Entertainment Weekly's trade paperback bestseller list, with a note about how this barely-promoted, quite little book has carefully made its way to the top by word-of-mouth alone! I am glad, as I think Edwards is very talented, and hope that her success means we'll hear Holly Hunter's reading of her short story on "Selected Shorts" very soon!

* * *

Yesterday I saw "Factotum," a film based on a novel by Charles Bukowski, starring Matt Dillon. I don't know that I have an opinion about it. Dillon was very good at inhabiting the character, at seemingly moving through life in a constant drunken haze, but it felt disjointed, like a series of snipped short stories united only by similar characters and theme, not plot nor storyline. We spend several scenes with Dillon's character Chinaski after he meets a fellow barfly played by Marisa Tomei, and some things happen that seem to be taking the story somewhere, but the section ends abruptly with a narrated, "We broke up shortly after that and I didn't see her again." I recognize that this is what the film is ultimately about: exciting and different things might happen, but Chinaski will always wind up back in the same endless empty drunken life. In life we don't always live out full-blown storylines, we are just offered glimpses of other people's lives before falling back into our own seedy routine.

I suspect it's the constant narration that I found disconcerting; I know it's supposed to reflect the written word that Chinaski is pouring onto the page at the time, but I've always preferred my films (and my short stories, to be fair) to show rather than tell. Don't tell me what I just saw, show me something I can interpret and then process. I would have preferred Chinaski's written word and the depictions of his life to have a more stylized connection in the film, somewhat along the lines of "American Splendor." When played straight, I found the overlay boring.

* * *

The sun is shining. I thought it was supposed to rain today.


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