Sunday, April 21, 2013

James M. Tabor's "Frozen Solid"

James M. Tabor is the bestselling author of The Deep Zone, Blind Descent, and Forever on the Mountain and a winner of the O. Henry Award for short fiction. A former Washington, D.C., police officer and a lifelong adventure enthusiast, Tabor has written for Time, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Outside magazine, where he was a contributing editor. He wrote and hosted the PBS series The Great Outdoors and was co-creator and executive producer of the History Channel’s Journey to the Center of the World.

Here Tabor dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, Frozen Solid:
Is there an author who hasn’t peopled his novels (secretly, guiltily) with stars from the silver screen? I do it secretly, guiltily, and frequently, though also fearfully, as if I could possibly be jinxing the whole thing by even thinking such self-aggrandizing bushwah.

But here! The chance to do so as an official response to an official offering from my gracious host Marshal. No guilt, no jinx, no fear. Let’s get right to it, then. The heroine in my current series of novels is Hallie Leland, 31, a Ph.D. microbiologist, born and raised in Virginia. She has fine hair cut very short, so blond it looks almost white in certain lights. She has an angular face in which dark-turquoise eyes are slightly misaligned— left higher than right—stands five-ten and weighs 130 pounds or so. She’s very fit, a restless type A, easily bored, an adrenalin junky and can be sharp as a switchblade.

Now, god knows I love Scarlett Johansson in everything she’s done, but (lack of height and excess of bosom aside) she just doesn’t do sharp well. Dewy-eyed, as in Lost in Translation, and beautifully vulnerable, or vulnerably beautiful, in Girl with the Pearl Earring, yes. Sharp, no. Neither, really, do Naomi Watts or Ali Larter, which is a shame because both have Hallie’s look.

The key to Hallie Leland is compressed frustration. You know how irritating it can be when you step out for a nice, brisk walk (or ski, run, scuba dive, bike ride, shopping trip—fill in from your experience) and then constantly have to wait for a companion (husband, wife, lover, friend, co-worker—fill in, again) to catch up? Consider doing that year after year since, say, elementary school. That’s been Hallie’s experience. It hasn’t made her conceited or rude, but she’s one of those people who have a finger or toe that’s always tapping. I think the actress who’s showed the potential (in Factory Girl, especially) to capture that aspect of Hallie Leland is Sienna Miller. She’s not 5-10, as Hallie is, but she’s blond, fit, smart enough to get a Ph.D. if she wanted one, and she can be sharp as a scalpel.

The second most important character in Frozen Solid is the South Pole Station Manager, Zack Graeter. He’s a retired Navy missile sub XO, early forties, about six feet tall. From the book: “He looked rude, if such a thing were possible. There was not much more to him than muscle strung over bone and wrapped in white skin. Steel-wool hair, high forehead, cheekbones like golf balls. A thin, hard mouth bent in a downward curve. His khaki pants and shirt were crisp, his black shoes and brass belt buckle polished to a sheen.”

The thing about Zack is he has to change, believably, from a fatally embittered man to one for whom the door of hope reopens, at least a crack, during the course of the novel. Fatal bitterness came from being falsely blamed for causing an accident on his boomer that killed three seamen. The sub’s captain was the real culprit, but that man was better connected and, in hallowed military tradition, the shit rolled downhill and landed on Graeter’s head. As if that weren’t enough, Graeter’s busty, lusty tart of a wife was the very model of the modern navy mate (as in marital), keeping herself awash in seamen while Graeter was fifty fathoms down for months at a time. Almost as hungry for rank as for sex, she jumped ship when the court-martial sunk Graeter’s career and landed, of all places, in the bunk of his conniving skipper.

My first thought was Eric Bana, who transformed so convincingly from human to monster and back again repeatedly in Chopper. Clive Owen, too, was a great changeling in Derailed. But then I remembered The Assassination of Jesse James, in which Brad Pitt changed from devil to angel and back again not only over the course of the film but in single scenes. For my money it was the best performance of Pitt’s career and one of the best in American film. Then I remembered The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—maybe the ultimate transformation film. Makeup and SFX had a lot to do with that work, but Pitt still was leading the pack.

Then it hit me: American Psycho’s Christian Bale. Oh yeah. Remember the screaming-hysterics-rant-confession scene where he’s on the floor in his apartment, huddling behind a couch with a police helicopter whap-whapping around outside his window while he leaves a detailed recounting of grisly homicides on his lawyer’s answering machine? And then, the next time we see him, he’s the buttoned-down, pore-cleansed, gel-washed, body-scrubbed, facially exfoliated, herb mint-facialled, smoothie-masked, eye-balmed, moisturized, single malt-sipping, Astroglide-slick executive. (Not to mention how he cut himself down to a walking skeleton for The Machinist.)

Christian Bale, meet Zack Graeter.
Learn more about the book and author at James M. Tabor's website.

Writers Read: James M. Tabor.

--Marshal Zeringue