Monday, July 8, 2013

Gerry FitzGerald's "Redemption Mountain"

Gerry FitzGerald has been in advertising for nearly thirty years and owns an advertising agency in Springfield, Massachusetts. He holds a master’s in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University and is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts with his wife, Robin.

Here FitzGerald dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, Redemption Mountain:
Redemption Mountain was first published in 2009 as a POD book entitled The Pie Man. Word of mouth recommendations led to a bookstore owner, then to a rep from St. Martin’s Press, and then to the current publisher Henry Holt and Company. Literally everyone who read the book couldn’t resist casting the movie. I still get sporadic emails of praise from far flung places, (even though The Pie Man was taken off the market in October 2011), many containing some expression similar to “Can’t wait for the movie!”, along with a casting recommendation.

The story of Redemption Mountain takes place in the year 2000, in southern West Virginia, in the heart of the coal mining region of Appalachia. Charlie Burden is a handsome, rugged, 48-year old partner in a New York City engineering firm, who goes to McDowell County, WV to take over the construction of a huge coal-fired power plant. In West Virginia, he meets Natty Oakes, a simple woman of the mountains – the wife of an abusive husband and the mother of a precocious 12-year-old boy with Down Syndrome called The Pie Man. The plot revolves around the slowly burgeoning relationship between Charlie and Natty, and the conflict that develops as Charlie’s utility/coal company client pushes ahead with a plan to do a mountaintop removal coal mine on Redemption Mountain, where Natty grew up and her grandparents and mother still live.

For the role of Charlie Burden, readers nearly unanimously voted for George Clooney, and I can’t disagree. He’s the right age and Clooney is also from Kentucky, where mountaintop removal coal mining has left its horrible mark as badly as in West Virginia. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise came in a distant second and third. Either could play the role beautifully. Russell Crowe has also received some support – surprisingly to me. He could certainly play the role, but he’d probably beat up the director the first day of production. Hugh Jackman is probably a little young, but would make a great Charlie Burden.

Natty Oakes seems to be a much more difficult role to cast. Natty is a petite, 30-year old with dirty blonde hair, whose exquisite beauty is hidden for most of the book behind a façade of no-makeup or jewelry, and a wardrobe of ill-fitting, mostly men’s clothing. With his discerning eye, Charlie sees Natty in a different way from the local men, including her husband, but not until later in the book, when she travels to New York on a church bus trip and visits a Park Avenue salon, is her incredible beauty revealed.

Maybe it’s because the audience for Redemption Mountain is over 40, but the vast majority of reader “votes” were for actresses probably too old for the part. Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner (who is from West Virginia), and Sandra Bullock (much support coming right after the release of her fabulous performance in The Blind Side, where she did play a blond), were the overwhelming favorites. Although also over 30, Reese Witherspoon (from Alabama) would be great, as would Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, two Aussies who can play any role, any age. While there are literally dozens of fine actresses in their early 30’s who could fit the role, my own choices would be either, Ellen Page (only in her late 20’s but so good in Juno), Natalie Portman (perfect!), or Emily Blunt who I just recently watched in Looper in which she was terrific.

For director, give me Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese to ensure a huge budget, and John Williams or Rachel Portman for a beautiful score.
Learn more about the book and author at Gerry FitzGerald's website.

Writers Read: Gerry FitzGerald.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Mountain.

--Marshal Zeringue