Tuesday, March 5, 2019

David Downie's "The Gardener of Eden"

David D. Downie has called Paris and the Marais home since 1986. He has written for over 50 publications worldwide including Bon Appétit, The Los Angeles Times, Town & Country Travel, The San Francisco Chronicle, epicurious.com, and Salon.com. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light, three Terroir guides, as well as several cookbooks and crime novels. He lives with his wife, Alison Harris, a photographer, and creates custom tours via his "Paris, Paris Tours" blog site.

Here Downie dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Gardener of Eden:
The Gardener of Eden was made to be filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. I grew up watching Hitchcock’s movies and his TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Think of the terrifying shower scene in Psycho, the breathless crop-duster scene in North by Northwest, the horrible, obsessive pecking of gulls and the seaside setting in The Birds. Then fold in the dizzying, tower-top and the deeply creepy in-the-giant-redwoods scenes of Vertigo. Hitchcock was the “Master of Suspense,” the Michelangelo of the psychological thriller, a genre that relies as much on chiseled character development and a feeling of ratcheting tension as on action or violence.

So, when the hero of The Gardener of Eden, James Paul Adams first appears on the darkly beautiful, wave-lashed beach below the cliffs of Carverville, Hitchcock’s camera would pick out the flapping black hooded windbreaker that makes the mysterious, solitary figure look like a cross of Jesus Christ and Rasputin. The lens would then zoom on the shiny spent gun-shells clutched in James’s hands, his big, gnarled hands clasped behind his arched back, as if he were a prisoner cuffed from behind and made to march to the gallows.

Jimmy Stewart could play the role, though the rougher, gruffer, tougher Gregory Peck might be a better fit. Tall, handsome, idealistic, fearless—and flawed—that is James, a Hitchcock character through and through. A sonorous baritone rusty from lack of use—because James, once a high-flying lawyer and judge, has become a wandering recluse. He’s a lavishly bearded, long-haired beachcomber who rarely speaks to anyone as he quests to find his former life and the lost love of that life.

The role of Beverley, the garrulous, gourmandizing, bowling-ball-shaped innkeeper of The Eden Resort & Cottages, where James winds up being the gardener, goes to Marsha Mason. Who? The Goodbye Girl—and dozens of other greats. Mason has been playing in Grace and Frankie in recent years, but was nominated four times for Oscars when I was growing up, plays serious and comic roles with equal flair, and has the smarts and style of Beverley. Hitchcock would approve.

Kristin Scott Thomas, though only 20 when Hitchcock died in 1980, is the book’s fictional Maggie, no question. She’s beautiful, tough, smart and faithful, and, like Beverley, runs rings around most of the other characters in the novel. Maggie hasn’t seen James in nearly forty years, but her heart is still his, for way too many reasons to explain here. Think of her in The English Patient, playing alongside Ralph Fiennes. Now that I mention him, Fiennes would be a perfect James. Both are English, not American, but they’re so good it doesn’t matter.

Sidney Greenstreet, another Brit, as played in The Maltese Falcon, would make a fine Harvey Murphy, the fat, sadistic county sheriff in The Gardener of Eden, though Ernest Borgnine at his most sinister, say, in Bad Day at Black Rock, might even be a better choice.

One of my favorite character actors, ever, Harvey Keitel, lifted from The Duellists, is the perfect Clem Kelly, the ornery, evil mayor of Carverville and editor of its propaganda sheet, The Carverville Lighthouse.

If Jussie Smollett were a few years younger and not in custody, he might be a good fit for Alexander, aka Taz, the surprising, goofy teenage hero who saves everyone’s bacon. Though only seventeen, Taz certainly knows Hitchcock’s repertoire. Does Smollett? Maybe. So, I am open to suggestions. Let me know?
Visit David Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Gardener of Eden.

--Marshal Zeringue