Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kimberly Elkins's "What Is Visible"

Kimberly Elkins was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has published fiction and nonfiction in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, Iowa Review, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Village Voice, among others.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of What Is Visible, her first novel:
What one lies in bed and dreams about: the movie that has been playing across the mind’s Technicolor screen since the book began, or perhaps even before. My novel, What Is Visible, spans the course of almost fifty years, but I’m choosing not to worry about that fact at the fantasy casting stage, believing as I do in the power of Hollywood to completely transform.

For the movie of What Is Visible, the key casting is Laura Bridgman, the first deaf-blind person to learn language fifty years before Helen Keller; Laura, who also couldn’t taste or smell, the scarlet fever taking four of her five senses at age two; Laura, who thousands came daily to visit at Perkins Institute, who charmed the likes of Dickens and Darwin; Laura, considered the second most famous woman of the nineteenth century, second only to Queen Victoria, and now lost to history.

Since I first saw the astonishing Mia Wasikowska in In Treatment years ago, she has been my Laura. She even looks a great deal like the historical Laura, ethereal, frail but also fierce. And now, not to jump on the trend train, but in my mind’s eye there is another contender, the endlessly mutable, endlessly watchable Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black. I don’t own a television, but I do sneak in my pleasures online, and she is one, a superbly gifted chameleon.

For Dr. Howe, Laura’s mentor and the founder of Perkins, the actor must be a dark-haired charismatic, as Howe was known as the “handsomest man in Boston.” Arrogant, autocratic, and yet capable of the greatest tenderness with Laura, his darling, his prodigy, until he felt that she had betrayed him and he turned on her in the worldwide press with a vengeance. Daniel Day Lewis would be the uber Howe, the one I’ve always pictured exercising his dominance over all, but if Mr. Day Lewis declined, then the surly, sexy intelligence of Clive Owen would do the role more than justice. Or Hugh Dancy, a wonderful and, in my opinion, often under-rated actor, who can bring a curl of cruelty to his beautiful lips as easily as a smile.

And since we’re talking Hugh Dancy for Dr. Howe, who better to play his wife, the fiery poet, abolitionist and suffragist, Julia Ward Howe, than Dancy’s real-life spouse, Claire Danes? Claire Danes, who’s grown up before our eyes, would own the part of Julia as surely as she owns Homeland. You can’t take your eyes off her. But if not Ms. Danes, my head and heart would go out to two other wildly talented redheads who would make Julia glow: Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain.

As for directors, Scorsese proved he can knock our socks off with a period piece with The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York. But I’d also love to see what Steven Soderbergh would do with What Is Visible, since I think historical drama is probably the only pond he hasn’t dipped his toes into. And oh, Jane Campion, Jane Campion!

Ah, perchance to fantasize...
Visit Kimberly Elkins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue