Take, for example, one of teenage-Shannon’s favorites, Downtown by Anne Rivers Siddons. It’s a well-written novel by a doyenne of Southern literature with a lovable protagonist, Smokey, a small-town Georgia girl who moves to big city Atlanta to write for a premier magazine under an infamous editor during the escalation of the Civil Rights movement in the South. This. This should be a movie. But it’s not.
And yet, some agent or producer read Billie Letts’ 1995 novel Where the Heart Is and said, this. This should be a movie.
Which, I guess I can see. It was a successful film as films go, right? It starred Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, and Stockard Channing. And, sure, it features Novalee Nation, a lovable teenage protagonist from small-town Tennessee who is pregnant and delivers her baby at a Walmart by herself….OK, nevermind, I just convinced myself that, yes, this book could have made a good movie.
The subject, yes. The writing – ehhhh. Like, why was it chosen by Oprah’s Book Club? The writing is not that good. It’s all melodrama. (I know, the more fool I, right? I mean, it’s called Where the Heart Is for heaven’s sake.)
I picked it up because I have a weirdly fond and somewhat poignant memory of watching the movie on TV. I was 19 and around seven months pregnant with Jacob. I was living with my parents and had woken up in my childhood bedroom that morning with severe cramping. My mom and best friend nursed me through the worst of it and laughed with me when it turned out to be……………gas. Yeah. Anyway, we watched the movie on TV while I was coddled and fussed over due to a debilitating case of pregnancy gas.
The point is, I remember it fondly and, thus, when it came up as a newly available Kindle book at the library, I checked it out. It was an easy read and I was in the mood for something light. Something heart-warming. Something you might pick up in the line at the supermarket. This seemed like just the ticket.
And it was except for one small issue. I’d be reading about little Novalee and her encounters with the kooky yet endearing people she meets in the Walmart parking lot and suspending my disbelief just fine when – BAM – turns out the boyfriend who left her there was raped in prison and his rectum was torn!
Criminy. Too sudden and too real, Billie!
The whole book was like this. Novalee is doing great and falling in love and maybe having a few problems here and there but generally doing OK when – BAM – the person she’s closest to dies! Sheesh. I was not prepared.
And that’s why, in my mind, this book will always be a Lifetime Book. The movie should have been a Lifetime movie and the book is most certainly a Lifetime-style book.
Be careful what you read.