Sunday, September 1, 2013

Eric Gansworth's "If I Ever Get Out of Here"

Eric Gansworth is a Professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, he was born and raised at the Tuscarora Reservation in Niagara County in upstate New York. His short stories, poetry, and nonfiction have been printed and reprinted in many literary magazines and anthologies, and his dramatic work has appeared at the Public Theater in New York City.

Here Gansworth dreamcasts an adaptation of his new YA novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here:
There seem to be many things against the realistic possibility, so I’m going to have to go into total fantasy-land for this one. This novel, adapted, would need to have an indie film aesthetic with a Michael Bay budget. So in my fantasy-land, all the Beatles and Paul McCartney music has been cleared for inclusion, as I can’t see it without those songs meaningfully in place. McCartney would also give permission for excerpts of his concert film, Rockshow, for the Wings concert scene. Even the choice of actors would be tricky. The tradition seems to be having child actors play child characters, but then, strangely, twentysomething actors are often cast to play high school age characters. Certainly, plenty of actors manage. Michael Angarano was a believable high school student in the adaptation of Stewart O’Nan’s Snow Angels, and he was twenty at the time.

I think we’ve been trained by popular culture to accept young looking adults are credible teens. Most of us don’t have occasion to jump back into that environment in the midst of an average school day. But when I was writing this novel, I visited some friends who teach at my old high school. I’m not an especially tall man--okay, in fact, I’m short. Yet, while walking those halls, I felt incredibly tall. The sensation made me realize that, when I was fourteen, fifteen, maybe even seventeen, I thought I looked like an adult.

This is mystifying in retrospect. I suppose the delusion sustains because all of our peers are, more or less, the same size, and we reject the visual information that teachers, parents, older siblings, are much larger than we are. So maybe that self-delusion allows us to accept the casting of thirty year olds as high school students. Consequently, I’m not sure I can even imagine what sort of actors would be perfect. I’d want Lewis and George to seem worldly and vulnerable at the same time, vividly present but also appropriately diminutive, not as in control of their worlds as they’d like.

Even if none of those things were possible, if each permission were refused, and all the available actors were over thirty, I still think Atom Egoyan would make an amazing film. He has this incredible ability to make narratively challenging films that, in their stylistic inventiveness--perhaps because of that boldness--they get to the truths of the stories. Also, he’s from Toronto, and deals with the snowy north in such a way that you could watch one of his winter scenes in August and still feel slightly hypothermic. His adaptation of Russell BanksThe Sweet Hereafter is by no means a literal translation, and yet, for all its divergences from the novel, the changes he made added to my understanding of its richness and complexity. I’d love to see the David Lynch or David Cronenberg version, to witness the horrifying subtext I’m maybe not even aware of, but Egoyan’s particular lens of isolated rural life and disconnection, even among the closest of relations, to me, would be the perfect refractor for this novel’s heart.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Gansworth's website.

--Marshal Zeringue