Thursday, March 1, 2012

Randall Silvis's "The Boy Who Shoots Crows"

Randall Silvis is a novelist, screenwriter, essayist and teacher.

Here he dreamcasts a big screen adaptation of his latest novel, The Boy Who Shoots Crows:
When I can see a scene playing out in my head like a scene in real life—as if I am not at the moment creating a scene but standing off to the side and observing the scene play out--I know that the writing is going well. This process is facilitated when I have a physical model for each the characters. And from the first day of conception of The Boy Who Shoots Crows through the last tweak of the final paragraph, I saw Diane Lane as my Charlotte Dunleavy. There is to Ms. Lane an elegance of bearing, the dignity borne of having lived a somewhat privileged life, but absent the haughtiness and narcissism of believing the privilege one’s due. This is Charlotte, a small-town girl, adored only child of middleclass parents. From kindergarten through a Seven Sisters education, she stood out. Inquisitive, intelligent, talented, lovely, and appreciative of her many gifts and opportunities. And yet, one of life’s blows—the death of a parent, her husband’s betrayal—can leave her reeling, feeling flung off balance from a suddenly tilting earth.

Charlize Theron could wear the role well, too. Even Angelina Jolie. Natalie Portman if she were older. Each as seemingly elegant and perfect in her beauty as a tawny doe, yet capable of being startled by a sudden noise, stopped in her tracks by the hurtful and unexpected.

And Sheriff Gatesman, so softened by life’s hardness, so familiar with sorrow.... I always saw James Dickey in that uniform. The same James Dickey who, in the movie made of his novel Deliverance, muses, without much hope, “I'd kinda like to see this town die peaceful.” And what actor could become James Dickey as Sheriff Gatesman? Philip Seymour Hoffman, given a bit of make-up and a few extra inches of height, would be my first choice. I would love to see what such a fine actor might do with that depth of compassion, that gravitas, those insuperable wounds. He is, to my mind, precisely the kind of man needed by a Charlotte Dunleavy or a Livvie Rankin—the only kind of man who might reach a woman so deep and lost in the belly of her whale of grief.

I understand, though, that a female audience might disagree, might wish that the hand reaching into that darkness were attached instead to an actor with the face of George Clooney. And yes, Clooney could pull it off. Not the stuttering bumbler of Burn After Reading but the emotionally pole-axed Clooney of The Descendants, a man who wants only to do good but, while doing so, must drag his own whale of grief behind him. Thin out his hair and darken the bags under his eyes, attach a drag to his smile and let the eyes carry the role, let the eyes tell the tale of the struggle against despair.

I can even more easily envision Pierce Brosnan in the role. Still strikingly handsome though no longer the pretty boy. His face is now marked by time and softened by sorrow. I can see him, too, feeling his way through life with a delicate, uncertain tread. I can see a troubled woman longing to be cradled in his arms.

Which brings me to Livvie Rankin, my favorite character from the novel. Strong, tenacious, uncomplaining Livvie, she with so few blessings in life, she whose first thought is always for someone other than herself. My model for Livvie was my mother as a young woman, and the actress who most closely approximates my image of my mother is the Hilary Swank of Million Dollar Baby, dark-haired and pretty, dark-eyed and tender, as bruised as a boxer who never wins but never goes down, as resolute as stone, as determined as a wide, deep river.

Some of the scenes in The Boy Who Shoots Crows remain as vivid inside my head as a recent memory. I can see the shafts of sunlight in the red pine forest, I can smell the damp pine needles, can feel the coldness of the snow soaking though my boots. Does that then mean, you might ask, that you are the boy, that Jesse is you? Of course Jesse is me. Just as Charlotte is me, and Gatesman is me, and Livvie is me. I am he and I am she and they are me and we are all together because I know what they know, I feel what they feel. To be human and painfully alert to your humanity is to know grief and guilt, remorse and shame, and to strive against all odds to carry on in spite of those burdens. This is what The Boy Who Shoots Crows is all about, whether the novel is packaged as a mystery, which it is not, or as a thriller, which it is not. It is a novel about the options available when life blindsides us, as it inevitably will.
Learn more about the book and author at Randall Silvis's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Boy Who Shoots Crows.

--Marshal Zeringue