Thursday, October 12, 2023

Allison Epstein's "Let the Dead Bury the Dead"

Allison Epstein earned her MFA in fiction from Northwestern University and a BA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as an editor. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets. She is the author of historical novels including A Tip for the Hangman, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, and the forthcoming Our Rotten Hearts.

Here Epstein dreamcasts an adaptation of Let the Dead Bury the Dead:
My book Let the Dead Bury the Dead follows four central characters through the streets, palaces, and battles of 19th-century Saint Petersburg. It's an alternate-history, fantasy-adjacent story of unlikely allies drawn together by a popular revolution bubbling against the tsar—and by Sofia, the mysterious woman at the center of it all.

Sofia is the only character I pictured as an actor while writing: Anya Taylor-Joy. She has the perfect mix of ethereal beauty and spooky otherworldliness. Is she an ancient spirit with shape-shifting capabilities? Who's to say. She's gorgeous and I'm afraid of her, which is exactly Sofia's vibe. (I hope Anya Taylor-Joy takes this as the sincere compliment I mean it to be.) I didn't mentally cast my other three central characters, but I'm always game to try!

First, there's Felix, the dissolute grand duke who unexpectedly joins up with a popular revolution. The perfect person to play Felix is Michael Sheen circa 1998, which is an annoying answer but a true one. Felix starts the book as a playboy who thrives on attention, and one of my prime delights in life is watching Michael Sheen chew the scenery in roles like this. But the actor would have to convey the pain of keeping up a bright, sociable facade while everything you care about in life crashes around your ears. Michael could do this gorgeously.

Then, there's Marya, the headstrong co-leader of the revolutionary collective. For her, I'm seeing Stephanie Hsu, who by the way needs to be cast in everything as soon as the actor's strike is over. Marya walks a razor's edge between kind, supportive friend and ruthless, determined warrior, and Stephanie Hsu has this quiet, self-possessed cool that I think would really convey that. Plus Marya and Stephanie both feel approachable in a way that I think would play super interestingly against Anya's forest-spirit vibe.

Finally, there's Sasha, the soldier who has to weigh his devotion to his country against his love for Felix. I'm saying Dev Patel for one of the silliest possible reasons: they have the same face. This wasn't intentional on my part, but I can't unsee it. Besides, Sasha's character is all about the flashes of emotion that dart through the walls he puts up between himself and the world, and I can picture Dev playing with those subtleties to build a character that's both attractive and deeply frustrating. Also I want more period dramas where Dev Patel wears cool coats and broods.
Visit Allison Epstein's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Tip for the Hangman.

The Page 69 Test: A Tip for the Hangman.

Q&A with Allison Epstein.

--Marshal Zeringue