Friday, April 18, 2014

Mike Harvkey's "In the Course of Human Events"

Mike Harvkey was born and raised in rural Missouri. He is a graduate fellow of Columbia University's Creative Writing MFA Program, a winner of Zoetrope All-Story Magazine's short fiction contest, and a black belt in Kyokushin karate. His short stories have been published in Mississippi Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Zoetrope All-Story Magazine, and other publications. He has been a contributing writer to The Believer, NYLON, NYLON Guys, Trunk, Backstage, Publishers Weekly, and The L.

Here Harvkey dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, In the Course of Human Events:
The only character in my novel who ever brought an actor to mind as I wrote was Jay Smalls, my novel's frightening patriarch and a character the author Aaron Gwyn (Wynne's War) called "a villain that would haunt Tyler Durden's dreams." Gwyn wasn't kidding; I had a dream about Jay. And in it, he looked an awful lot like John Hawkes. Hawkes's frightening "Teardrop" in Winter's Bone felt to me like a warm-up for Jay Smalls. Hawkes has a wide range, but on one side of it is some mean-spirited stuff.

He showed the opposite edge of that range in The Sessions, costarring with Helen Hunt. Hunt, aging gracefully unlike so many American actresses, has always been naturally sympathetic. But she's never been more interesting than she now, at 50. With Hawkes she had real chemistry and showed how fearless she can be if given the chance. All of this makes her a good choice for Jay's wife Jan, my book's most sympathetic character. My director of choice has been stocking his movies lately with yesterday's stars who few others bother with anymore, so I think he'd go for the this casting call.

But the story belongs to Clyde Twitty, a typical Midwestern guy. Decent, kind, caring. But the fallout from the economic collapse has saddled him with an anger that has no outlet. Beaten down by life and the broken promise of the American Dream, Clyde is numb when we meet him. Under Jay's brutal tutelage, however, Clyde gains confidence and, in time, adopts his teacher's extremist views. If the transformation weren't so troubling, you could almost say Clyde blossoms. I think Dean DeHaan, whose career is on fire, is a great fit for Clyde. DeHaan is 27 but looks 18 and has a fragile, almost sickly innocence that masks a sinister shadow. The casting director of this summer's Spiderman film saw it, picking DeHaan to play the villain. When Spidey's done with him he'll play one of cinema's biggest legends--James Dean--in Life.

My director of choice? Lars von Trier, naturally. Von Trier and my novel actually have an awful lot in common, and it's not just an obsession with the martyr complex. It's a fascination with America--its mythology, its standing in the world, and its promise. Since Dancer in the Dark, von Trier has set most of his films in the U.S. In Manderlay he took on our country's fraught relationship to race, a subject that also informs my book. Dancer in the Dark was about violence, justice, and the far-reaching power of the state, subjects I've also taken on. Von Trier is an outsider, a megalomaniac, a provocateur. He shoots beautifully, his films are audacious and visceral, he's naughty, and he gets fine performances. Best of all, with few overseers telling him what he can't do, von Trier could turn in a 3- or even 4-hour cut of In the Course of Human Events, which would make me delirious. The more I think about it the more certain I am: Lars von Trier is the right lunatic for the job.
Learn more about the book and author at Mike Harvkey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue