Monday, September 01, 2008

The new canon

The Catcher in the Rye belongs to that legion of books I've started but never finished. I believe I read the first 50 or so pages about 5 years ago, then put it back on the shelf. I didn't dislike it, but was worried about the novel's indelible prose style infecting my own writing. (At that time in my development, I preferred to allow far more banal influences infect my writing). I've had a similar response to the fiction of Raymond Carver, which I can only now approach with some objectivity.

Most people, I take it, read Catcher in high school. This article, written by someone who has actually read Salinger's novel in its entirety, says that practice should come to an end, and recommends other texts (some of which, like Freaks and Geeks, aren't even texts) more "relatable" to today's adolescence. While I can't attest to Catcher's relatability to 21st-century high school students (though I suspect that the author of this article might have severely midjudged it), I was glad to see the inclusion of Jeff Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides on her "revised syllabus." That novel has a great deal to recommend. Not only does Eugenides nail the pressures and trauma faced by both teenag boys and girls, the novel is also (in spite of its portentous title) wryly and consistently hilarious. A copy of the book was among the first gifts I ever bought for my future wife, and we still smirk knowingly when one of us utters the line "Squeezebox all right!"

The book was, obviously, the subject of a dead-perfect film adaptation by Sofia Coppola (and, in my mind, remains the best film she's ever done). Coppola did a remarkable job staying true to her source material, a trait that I don't necessarily look for, much less demand, from effective page-to-screen transitions. In fact, there's a remarkable scene from the DVD extras--which unfortunately I've been unable to locate on YouTube--where Coppola has Eugenides read aloud the passage where Trip Fontaine drops Lux Lisbon off after a disappointingly chaste date. The footage then cuts to the actual clip of the scene from the movie, and, as we listen to the voiceover of Eugenides reading the passage, we see that the scene as Coppola has filmed it has been perfectly timed to coincide with what is occurring in the text, producing the effect of both reading and watching the story at the same time. Trust me, it's a miracle of multimedia.

I would search harder for the clip but YouTube is apparently broken at the moment.