Friday, July 1, 2011

Dean Bakopoulos's "My American Unhappiness"

Dean Bakopoulos's is the author of the novel Please Don't Come Back from the Moon, a New York Times Notable Book, and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is a professor in the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Environment at Iowa State University, and the former director of both the Wisconsin Book Festival and the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

Here he shares some casting suggestions for the leads in an adaptation of his new novel, My American Unhappiness:
The most difficult challenge of writing My American Unhappiness was creating a protagonist, Zeke Pappas, who has so buried his own pain with manic intellectual pursuits, that he can no longer function with any sort of steadiness. His emotional core is fried by years of bad luck and over-thinking, and the only time Zeke feels alive is when it is struggling to make a connection, often sexual, with a beautiful woman. It’s a thrill for him to feel anything authentic, and in pursuit of such a thrill he allows much of his life to spin out of control—jobs, friendships, familial relationships.

It’s a novel about a big-hearted but hard-to-like guy on the verge of a crack-up. Perhaps it’s too easy to say I’d like James Franco to play Zeke, but I’m an admirer of his performances and also of his rather manic zealousness as an artist too. He understands both the power of restraint and the excitement of post-modern pyrotechnics. He’s serious, but not afraid of playfulness as an actor and artist. It’d be a more comedic role for him, with a dark subtext, and I’d think he’d understand this character.

Zeke has four love interests in the book, including a delusional preoccupation with Sofia Coppola, but his main love interest is Minn, the only one whom he might actually stand a chance with, and she must be a happy counterpoint to Zeke’s unbalanced exuberance and moodiness. Perhaps Zooey Deschanel, whom I like a great deal, could play Minn.

The whole novel is structured in the three-act format of a screenplay, and so I think there’s something to the idea of My American Unhappiness as a film. Unlike my first novel, Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, which has been optioned up by American Zoetrope, Universal, and Lionsgate at various stages in its shelf life, this is a novel that would be a straightforward adaptation. It is the story of delusion, both the lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel relevant, and about the lies our country tells itself in order to feel sustainable. And it’s funnier too.
Learn more about the book and author at Dean Bakopoulos's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue