Friday, September 27, 2013

Carrie Brown's "The Last First Day"

Carrie Brown and her husband, the novelist John Gregory Brown, have spent their working lives writing and teaching side by side in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Sweet Briar College, where John Gregory Brown directs the College’s creative writing program.

They have published ten books between them and raised three children on the campus at Sweet Briar. Over the years, they have been fortunate to host many of the world’s great writers at their home, Sanctuary Cottage, and to introduce those writers and their work to hundreds of students.

Brown now serves as Distinguished Visiting Professor at nearby Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, where she lives at the University and works with undergraduate and graduate students in the University’s esteemed creative writing program. She and her husband travel between the two literary landscapes and enjoy the best of both worlds.

Here Brown dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Last First Day:
Much of the novel takes place at a beautiful and isolated boarding school for boys near the Maine coast. If I am invited to think about a film adaptation – may the gods bless me and keep me – I think about the novel’s setting and the brilliant quality of Northern coastal light, especially at the potent hours of dawn and dusk. I think about the light in forests, such as the one that surrounds the school in the novel, and the gleam of oak desks in darkened rooms, the crackled surface of old portraits, the green radiance of playing fields, the pewter tarnish of old trophies. I think of autumn light and spring light and winter light and …well, I think Vermeer, because what is more beautiful or beautifully lit than a Vermeer? Who could capture that on film? I don’t know. The novel is ruminative, quiet, the story of a long marriage. It is a story of devotion and happiness but also regret and loneliness and inevitable loss. Light -- and dark -- seem important to a story as deeply interior as this one. The score would be classical, I think. Piano mostly. Perhaps Fanny Mendelshon’s Das Jahr.

The novel follows the two main characters over their long lifetime together, so it would be a neat trick to cast actors. A talented make-up artist would be required. A good deal of the novel, however, occurs when Ruth and Peter, the couple at the novel’s center, are in what people sometimes carefully refer to as the “advancing years.” For Ruth, a friend suggests Julie Christie, based on her performance as the wife with dementia in Away From Her, the film adaptation of Alice Munro’s story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Or Meryl Streep for her combination of fragility, strength, humor, dignity, intelligence… and her extrasensory ability to convey a closely held, tragic secret, which is Ruth’s great burden in the novel. Also, my god; those cheekbones…

An actor with great kindness but not foolishness in his face -- though a degree of innocence -- should play Peter. I’m no good at this, I’m afraid. In my next life, I will watch more movies. I would have said Gregory Peck, but as we know, he is occupied making all the angels fall in love with him.
Learn more about the book and author at Carrie Brown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue