Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Katherine Keenum's "Where the Light Falls"

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Katherine Keenum graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.A. in English and earned a Ph.D. in medieval studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She worked in the publicity department of the New Orleans Public Schools, taught in the expository writing program at Yale University, and served as the executive editor of the book publishing program of the Council on East Asian Studies at Harvard University.

Here Keenum dreamcasts an adaptation of Where the Light Falls, her first published work of fiction:
While writing Where the Light Falls, a novel set largely in the art world of nineteenth-century Paris, I looked at more period paintings than recent movies. A shock of recognition came for me when I saw Thomas Eakins’ painting, The Veteran. There was my leading male character, a troubled Civil-War veteran, Edward Murer, in all his complexity. If any actor could embody that portrait, it would be Jeremy Irons; but he is too old now for the part. Luckily, in real life Daniel Day-Lewis is closer to Edward in age; surely he can play a ravaged forty.

The central character, Jeanette Palmer, is much harder for me to cast. The first post in my blog about picturing the world of the novel shows a painting of three women artists by Alfred Stevens called In the Studio. A woman in black in that painting might be Jeanette. A painting by Manet, Woman Reading, illustrates the sophisticated Parisienne Jeanette aspires to become. Yet neither picture immediately suggests to me a particular actress. The novel begins at Vassar College in 1878, when sheltered, nineteen-year-old Jeanette is being expelled for helping her roommate elope. Determined to go her own way, she manages to get to Paris to study drawing and painting, which she does very seriously. In Paris, however, she is also introduced to Edward. In a screen version of the romance that follows, viewers would need to feel comfortable watching a young woman with an older man, something that used to be taken for granted but now can seem creepy. Someone in her mid-to-late twenties rather than a true ingénue could be the answer for casting Jeanette. Not so long ago, Amy Adams might have played the part. Now? I don’t know who.

For the third most important character in the novel, Cousin Effie Pendergrast, I need a female Paul Giamatti, a decidedly unglamorous character actor who can win the audience’s heart. Mary Wickes made a career of playing wisecracking secondary roles (think Emma the housekeeper in White Christmas), but Cousin Effie is no one-note, comic sidekick. Perhaps if Jodie Foster or Holly Hunter loved the part, she would be willing to start dowdy and bring out Cousin Effie’s special spunk—adding a touch of movie glamour just for the fun of it.

For artist Amy Richardson, Jeanette’s best friend: a young Emma Thompson or today’s Mia Wasikowska.

For the dodgy journalist Robbie Dolson: Benedict Cumberbatch.

For his sad, withdrawn sister, Emily Dolson: Jessica Brown Findlay.

For Cornelia Renick, the radiant hostess who introduces Jeanette and Edward, Meryl Streep.
Learn more about the book and author at Katherine Keenum's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Katherine Keenum and Palmer.

The Page 69 Test: Where the Light Falls.

--Marshal Zeringue