Thursday, August 11, 2022

Erin Flanagan's "Blackout"

Erin Flanagan’s most recent novel Blackout was a June 2022 Amazon First Reads pick. Her novel Deer Season won the 2022 Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author and was a finalist for the Midwest Book Awards in Fiction (Literary/Contemporary/Historical). She is also the author of two short story collections–The Usual Mistakes and It’s Not Going to Kill You and Other Stories. She’s held fellowships to Yaddo, MacDowell, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, UCross, and The Vermont Studio Center. She contributes regular book reviews to Publishers Weekly and other venues.

Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband, daughter, two cats and two dogs. She is an English professor at Wright State University and likes all of her colleagues except one.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of Blackout:
Seven hard-won months into her sobriety, sociology professor Maris Heilman begins having mysterious blackouts. She chalks it up to exhaustion, though she fears that her husband and daughter will suspect she’s drinking again. When another blackout lands her in the ER, Maris meets a network of women suffering the same fate, and they have limited time to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it before it’s too late.

While this novel is billed as a thriller, at its center it’s a book about women and how we balance our increasingly complicated lives. After her first blackout, Maris makes the decision not to tell her husband, Noel, what happened and instead explains away her odd forgetful behavior by saying she probably just needs a good night’s sleep. “She worked a demanding job, was hounded by trolls online for her articles on rape culture and masculinity, was raising a teenager, and was in her forties. Of course she needed a good night’s sleep.” But of course, too, she knows it’s more than that and an actress would need to be able to portray a character’s ability to lie to her husband and herself for different reasons.

While Jenny Slate is known mostly for her comedy (I loved her as Mona-Lisa Saperstein in Parks and Recreation), there’s a certain scrappiness to her that I would love to see take on Maris. Slate seems to understand that it’s difficult and exhausting to be a woman right now (and historically), and that it’s not just one job but many. That comedy she’s so good at is a form of bravado, and I think bravado is just what Maris has used to get through the world. By the end of the movie, it would need to be clear what vulnerability lurks underneath it.

Bill Hader would be a great choice for Noel, an empathetic ER doctor. Noel learns firsthand the destruction wrought in a family through secret keeping. He knows he loves Maris but does he trust her? Bill Hader is tall, looks good in scrubs, and can play a range of roles from those embodying distrust and despair (Barry) to unexpected heartthrob (Trainwreck).

And finally there’s Cody, Maris’s thirteen-year-old daughter, who is trying to navigate growing up in a patriarchal society where girls are seen in relation to their sexuality. Add onto this a mother she doubts, a biological father a thousand miles away, and the hormones of puberty, and good luck. Elsie Fisher is probably aging out of this role, but I was so incredibly struck with her performance in Castle Rock, I’d love to see her as Cody. Every time I’d see Fisher on screen, so awkward and teenaged and vulnerable, it would be like looking at a real kid. Not a kid who was acting these things, but that was these things. It was almost uncomfortable, and it took me a few episodes to give her her due and realize this was a part she was playing and not her. That’s both a great compliment to her acting, and just the kind of devaluation girls face day in and day out.

As for Eula, the older neighbor who gave up her academic career in the sciences to support her husband’s, Frances McDormand in ten more years, full stop. I think everything I’ve ever written is for Francis McDormand at some stage in her career. Mostly, I’d be so curious to hear who readers would want to see in these roles and who they envision, so if you have ideas, please let me know!
Visit Erin Flanagan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blackout.

--Marshal Zeringue