Thursday, April 10, 2014

Janie Chodosh's "Death Spiral"

Janie Chodosh is a scientist wannabe and a naturalist. She has spent the last decade teaching high school English and middle school science. When not writing or obsessing about writing, Chodosh can be found with her family in various outdoor pursuits including bird watching, rock climbing, or trying to grow a garden in the arid southwest. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her daughter, stepson, and husband.

Here Chodosh dreamcasts an adaptation of Death Spiral, her first novel:
If they make my book into a film here’s who I’d like to play the leads:

Faith, the protagonist of Death Spiral, is the sixteen-year-old daughter of a dead heroin addict who describes herself as “too brown to be white and too white to be brown.” Faith is resourceful and grounded despite the rough life she’s led. She dreams of going to college and of studying to become a scientist. She is independent and does what it takes to get by. After seeing the movie Winter’s Bone I thought Jennifer Lawrence, as tough and self-sufficient Ree Dolly, would make a perfect Faith, except for one fact: Jennifer Lawrence is white.

Faith Flores, having never met her father, likes to imagine that she has Indian blood, that her father was Mayan or Cherokee. Iroquois maybe. In book two she discovers her father was Mexican, and she starts on a quest to learn more about her roots. I envision the leading role of Faith Flores being played by someone with Spanish/Mexican heritage. The indie actress, (whose paternal roots are from Spain) Paz de la Huerta, comes to mind. At this point Ms. de la Huerta is too old to play a sixteen-year-old, but if I envision a younger Ms. de la Huerta in the role of Faith. Ms. de la Huerta, who had roles in such films as A Walk to Remember, Riding in Cars with Boys, and Cider House Rules as Tobey Maguire’s girlfriend, has an offstage persona of a combat-boot-wearing, rebellious, urban, and independent young woman, characteristics that embody the tenacious, young Faith Flores.

For Faith’s love interest, the honest, energetic, new boy at school, Jesse Scheneider, it’s all about the chemistry between the actors. Faith, having experienced a life of broken promises, has major trust issues. She and Jesse move between bickering, sharing deep secrets, running around downtown Philly, solving a mystery, and ultimately caring deeply about each other. Yet Jesse, despite his fearless exterior, has a hidden side that can’t quite break free from Doc, his overbearing MD/PhD father, and his expectations. I would cast Ansel Elgort, who plays the leading role of Augustus Waters in the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars (summer 2014), as Jesse. Like Jesse, Augustus is energetic, bold, and not afraid to speak his mind, yet on another level he is very afraid. From the trailers and interviews I’ve seen, Mr. Elgort gives a nuanced performance that conveys his love for a dying girl for and the depth of his inner battles.

While Faith and Jesse take center stage, Anj, Faith’s one friend at school, (and maybe, as Faith muses, her one friend anywhere), plays an important secondary role. Though throughout much of the story, Anj is more interested in her Scottish exchange student boyfriend and in her various social campaigns (end factory farming! Stop world hunger! Indigenous rights now!) she shows up in a critical way at the end of the book and helps to solve the mystery and bring down the villain. I give the role of Anj to Abigail Breslin, a versatile actress who can play bubbly and carefree (Little Miss Sunshine) and intense, pissed off, and focused (August, Osage County).

Toni Collette would make a fantastic Aunt T, Faith’s beloved aunt who takes in Faith after her mother’s death. As for the scientists and professors who populate the mystery, I see the versatile Chris Cooper as Dr. Glass, Steve Buscemi as Dr. Wydner, a younger Laura Dern as Dr. Monroe, and a younger Viggo Mortensen as the Rat Catcher. And there we have it. There’s just one question: When can we start filming?
Visit Janie Chodosh's website.

Writers Read: Janie Chodosh.

The Page 69 Test: Death Spiral.

--Marshal Zeringue