Saturday, March 18, 2006

Short stories and movies

"Because they wanted to" is a great book title. It is a collection of short stories by Mary Gaitskill, including "Secretary". After seeing the DVD a year or two ago, I was intrigued and bought the book but, inevitably, never got round to reading it. I was in a short story mood the other day, so read a few of MG's collection, as well as some of Annie Proulx's (including Brokeback Mountain). Secretary is what I would call a perfect short story. The reader is left intensely curious to know more about this character, her family and how they became stuck in this tortured set-up, but sure ain't going to find out. (For me, this kind of thing is why I can't read too many short stories close together.) The piece is a bare, focused account of a young woman's inability to act on her confused emotions -- or maybe I should say, responses. The author is particularly precise at depicting, with a light touch, the turmoil beneath the apparently placid exterior. What struck me, as would any reader I am sure, is the contrast between the movie and the story. In the story, the main character is indeed briefly a secretary in similar circumstances to the character in the movie, a similar crisis-event occurs, but from there on the two are polar opposites. The message of the story: the guy is a pervert; the message in the movie: celebrate it. I enjoyed both, but in the movie, the writer and director have taken the premise of the story and imagined the opposite -- a case of "inspired by" rather than "based on". Sadly, the only place this inspiration took the film-makers to eventually was to a disappointingly Hollywood-inspired ending (I say disappointingly as it was an indie film, wasn't it?). Never mind, it was still a good movie and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. I quite liked Brokeback Mountain (and a few of the others in Proulx's book), but not all that much. I imagine the movie is more in line with the story than is Secretary, though I have not seen the movie, I'm just going by the reviews. Although I can easily relate to stoicism I could not identify much with the characters. I was mildly intrigued by the women but they barely registered as people, as opposed to plot devices. Unlike Secretary, whose author has that lovely knack of enabling the reader to fix a character, even one that doesn't really appear, using half a sentence. Jenny D said in a comment to an earlier post, "Don't read The Shipping News". I don't think I will.