Sunday, March 16, 2014

Isla Morley's "Above"

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband (a minister) and daughter and an assortment of animals. Her debut novel, Come Sunday, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction in 2009 and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. It has been translated into seven languages.

Here Morley dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Above:
Annie Dillard said never to trust a novel that wanted to be a movie. “Novels with film contracts in mind have a faint but unmistakable, and ruinous, odor,” she observed in The Writing Life. I wish I’d never read that, not because she isn’t right, but because along with all the scoffing critics that already reside in my head, there is now also Annie Dillard and her Sniff Test. The first time a reader remarked that Above would make a great movie, I bit my bottom lip and tried not to glance Annie Dillard’s way. When others echoed the sentiment, I felt the need to defend myself to her: My intentions were honest. A book, I swear; not a movie!

The version of Annie Dillard who sits in the corner of my mind on a straight back chair with her Pulitzer trophy on her lap is not at all pleased with this exercise. I shouldn’t be imagining people from the Silver Screen showing up for their parts, but how easy it is to see Jennifer Lawrence as Blythe Hallowell, the abducted teen who is held deep underground in an abandoned World War II missile silo, and Sam Rockwell as the crazed survivalist who keeps her there. Lawrence has the chops to play a character whose battles are both against external forces (her kidnapper and the beastly dimensions of an almost fathomless bunker) and internal threats such as despair. She’d be at her fiercest when raising a child in captivity. Also, she’ll age well.

Having delivered a magnificent performance as an astronaut isolated for years in a lunar mining base in Moon, Rockwell would excel as the end-of-the-world prepper, Dobbs Hordin. Forest Whitaker would be a perfect counterbalance as the failed father looking for an opportunity to redeem himself.

None of these actors came to mind while I was working on the novel, but I’ll confess that when I wrote the book’s final scene, I did hear a song. Sorry, Annie, but it’s the kind of song they play when the credits start to roll. Each time I listen to Glory Bound by The Wailin’ Jennys, I am back to the rush of that moment – when there is no page, no screen either. There is only everything falling into place. There are a hundred smells that accompany such a thing, none of them ruinous.
Learn more about the book and author at Isla Morley's website.

Writers Read: Isla Morley.

The Page 69 Test: Above.

--Marshal Zeringue