Variety: New Ending for David Fincher’s Adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

As chance would have it, I’m reading Gone Girl right now. So apparently the ending (no spoilers please) in David Fincher’s upcoming adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike has been changed. According to writer Gillian Flynn, Fincher asked her to change the ending for the movie’s screenplay.

“There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its 8 million Lego pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie.”

The entire article and interview can be found in Entertainment Weekly’s latest issue, including a cover of the two leads that was shot by Fincher.

Non-2013 Pop Culture I Discovered Last Year

AV Club recently asked their staff writers and regular readers an interesting question: What’s the Non-2013 pop culture you discovered this year? Well, that got me to thinking because 2013 was a pretty unique year for me in (re)discovering some great non-2013 pop cultural artifacts. I thought I’d take the time and share some of them with you.

I am Cuba (Yo Soy Cuba)

When Turner Classic Movies aired this classic piece of Soviet/Cuban agit-prop back in September, I was in awe. I’d read about how revolutionary this  film was, but I had no idea just how much, so watching it for the first time was a revelation. From the beautiful B&W cinematography to the narration, everything in this film is like a prose poem rich with imagery and music. Told in four separate stories, I Am Cuba takes place just before the Cuban Revolution, and, sparingly, though nonetheless sympathetically, tells the stories of four different people––a young kept woman living in Havana, a revolutionary student, a sugarcane farmer, and a man who joins the revolution after his family is killed. But the real star of the film, of course, is its cinematography. The scene in which a camera soars out of a window and over the city streets as it follows a funeral procession is nothing short of amazing. The dizzying camera movements bring you so fully and so completely into the film that the fourth wall breaks down and you are one with the sights, sounds, smells, and, most importantly, people of Cuba.

Forever Changes, by Love

I’d known for a while now about the 1960s rock band Love, headed by singer/songwriter Arthur Lee, a friend and contemporary of Jimi Hendrix’s, but 2013 was the year I discovered their seminal album Forever Changes. Released in 1968, Forever Changes is very much of its time––L.A. acid rock with off-beat, but deeply inspirational lyrics––yet it has a meditative allure that transcends time. I listened to this album almost non-stop over last summer, its songs, such as the majestic “You Set the Scene,” growing on me with each listen.

Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi

2013 was the year I first heard of Helen Oyeyemi, even though her first novel was published in 2005. Born in Nigeria but raised in Britain, this young writer has quickly made a name for herself in the literary world with novels like White is for Witching, Icarus Girl, and Mr. Fox (2011). Her stories are both literary and fantastic, emotionally resonant yet whimsical. Mr. Fox, for instance, is about a writer, St. John Fox, his imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, and his wife, Daphne. The entire novel is a storytelling competition between Fox and his muse, Mary Foxe, as they deal with the control each has over the other. Oyeyemi’s prose is deceptively simple, belying the density of thought and care in each sentence, but creates a world that is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Twin Peaks 

I first saw David Lynch’s Twin Peaks during its original run in 1990, but it wasn’t until I re-watched the entire series on Netflix over the summer that I really came to appreciate it (I was honestly surprised by what I’d forgotten and what I might have missed out on the first go-round). While fans and critics alike mention its weirdness, its cinematic quality, both in cinematography and music, as well as the murder mystery at the heart of the series––Who Killed Laura Palmer?––what struck me during this re-watch was how honestly it portrayed grief. Few TV series or films examine how absurd the bereavement period can be: One moment you’re singing and tapping dancing as if you’re on top of the world and the next you’re in a blubbering heap of tears. As someone who’s lost her sister nearly ten years ago, I can relate. After the networks pushed Lynch and producer Mark Frost to solve Laura Palmer’s murder during its second season (they had originally intended for it to remain unsolved), the show lost its way and veered wildly into territory that was both wacky (and not in a good way) and ridiculous (one storyline involved industrialist Ben Horne having a nervous breakdown and thinking he’s Jefferson Davis during the Civil War). But the series’ finale, directed by Lynch, more than redeemed itself with one of the most bizarre and freaky episodes to ever appear on TV. Twin Peaks was definitely ahead of its time!

New Releases for 2014

The new year is only five days away, which means lots of resolutions that won’t be kept and new releases from the literary press. I’ve put together a partial list of what to expect in the bookstores in the coming year.

Leaving the Sea, by Ben Marcus

Marcus, known for his experimental fiction, returns with a book of short stories that further pushes the boundaries of what prose is capable of doing. It includes the title story about the slow disintegration of a marriage told in one sentence. Expect this to be available January 7.

Haiti Noir 2: The Classics, edited by Edwidge Danticat

Akshashic Press will be releasing their second anthology of classic fiction from Haiti. Edited by author Edwidge Danticat, this new releases will appear in bookstores on January 7.

Carthage, by Joyce Carol Oates

Oates ought to be called the hardest working writer in America. After her novel The Accursed was published last year, she’s publishing a new one, Carthage, on January 21. This involves a missing girl, an Iraqi war vet who becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance, and a town that comes to grips with the horror of death and violence in its midst.

Thirty Girls, by Susan Minot

Minot’s latest book is ripped from the headlines in world events: a young girl who’s abducted by a fundamentalist faction in Uganda; a journalist covering the events there while coping with failed relationships. Their lives intersect. A touchy subject, but we’ll see how Minot handles it with her deft prose. To be published on February 14.

Bark, by Lorrie Moore

In her first collection of short stories since her masterful Birds of America fifteen years ago, Moore’s latest tackles subjects as diverse as the Iraq war, 9/11, divorce, politics, and death and mines how the personal and the political collide in the most unexpected ways. Should hit the bookstores February 25.

 All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengetsu

The author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air returns with a new book that is a love story between an American woman and an African man in 1970s America. Yet the story delves beyond a simple love story and explores the dislocation of immigrants caused by political violence and sacrifice and the loyalty one feels to his homeland and the people who fought to liberate it. Look for it starting on March 4.

Book of Hours, by Kevin Young

Also to be published on March 4 is Kevin Young’s new book of poetry about death, grief, and the renewal of life. This collection of deeply personal poems covers the death of Young’s father and the birth of a new child with the beautiful, sharp clarity of love and wisdom.

A Year in Recommendations: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

51L3ktA41ZLChimamanda Ngozi Adichie is all in the news now, what with her TED talk a few years ago taking a minor role in Beyoncé’s sneak attack release of her latest album. Featured on the track, “Flawless,” Adichie calls to a better understanding of feminism for young girls today. In her latest novel, Americanah, Adichie tackles with a sharp, satirical edge, not only a feminist call for young, Nigerian women whose only ambitions are to marry rich, but also the incisive observations of immigrant life in both Britain and America. At the heart of her novel is a star-crossed love story. Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love as teens growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, but their ambitions to rise above the meager circumstances of their home country lead them to emigrate to America and Britain, creating a separation that tears them apart physically and emotionally. While Ifemelu thrives in America, navigating our obsessions with race, the language barriers, and odd customs––she is awarded fellowships, jobs, and becomes a successful blogger––she also cannot get past the sinking feeling that she is becoming something she does not want to become: an Americanah, a Nigerian who has become so successfully assimilated into American life that she has forgotten her Nigerian roots. Obinze, likewise, navigates similar paths in Britain, but when his visa runs out he is forced to turn to extralegal means to stay. Eventually he is discovered and is summarily deported back to Lagos, where ironically he benefits financially from a real estate boom. Yet, like Ifemelu, he is unhappy because the life he lives is not the one he envisioned. Years later, older and somewhat wiser, Ifemelu and Obinze cross paths again and their happiness now depends on their willingness to pursue what they both truly desire.

Americanah is a love story, but it is also a sharp, incisive attack against what Adichie also referred to as the “danger of the single story”––that one definition, one way of life, one way of living is ever enough, in our personal lives, in our politics, and especially in our stories.

A Year in Recommendations: The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Park, by Jeanne Theoharis

51PbJr7C-TL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Rosa Parks is an iconic figure in the Civil Rights movement as well as American history, and yet she is also the most misunderstood. While in the collective imagination she is the little old lady who, tired after a long day of work, refused to leave a bus seat when ordered to by a bus driver in Birmingham, Alabama, she was in fact a dedicated and forward thinking revolutionary for social and economic justice. Long a member of the NAACP, Parks fought against racial segregation, often quietly, but no less importantly in the years prior to the bus boycott. She was also an indefatigable supporter of Malcolm X and did not turn her back, as other civil rights activists were forced to do, on Marxist and socialist activists. This side of Mrs. Parks rarely makes it to the mainstream, but earlier this year, Jeanne Theoharis’s biography The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Park, corrects that oversight. The Mrs. Parks who emerges from Theoharis’s document is still the quiet, shy, and unassuming woman of the public imagination, but underneath that is someone of great intelligence, steely reserve, and tenacity. The biography covers Parks’ life from childhood to death, revealing aspects of her work as a social and political activist that was new to me. For instance, Parks continued with her work long after the boycott, often in the shadow of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, working with Marxists and Black Panther activists toward social and economic justice. She would do this work well into the 1980s and 1990s, until her death. Parks also bristled at the persona that was created of her in public as well as the sexism she and other women in the movement faced. Theoharis’s well-written and exhaustively researched biography is a testament to a women who deserves far more credit for her role in the civil rights struggle and her commitment to justice.

A Year in Recommendations: Round House, by Louise Erdrich

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Source: goodreads.com

Few books startle me, but Louise Erdrich’s Round House was one of those few. This 2013 National Book Award winner is a gripping tale of mystery surrounding the rape of an Objiwe woman outside her Minnesota reservation. The story takes place in the 1980s, before laws concerning sovereignty and jurisdiction were changed only recently by the Obama administration, allowing the prosecution of crimes against Native Indians outside their reservations. So the mystery in Round House revolves not only on the who, but the where. The novel is also a coming-of-age tale since it’s POV is told through young Joe, whose mother Geraldine is the victim of the vicious crime. As he and his friends uncover clues about who raped his mother and where the crime actually took place, Joe’s innocence quietly flakes away as he begins to see the world in its totality: his mother’s depression, his father’s powerlessness to protect their family, the injustices and minor cruelties Indians face on and off the reservation. I was captivated from beginning to end. The novel is brimming with subtle insights and quiet, but seething outrage at the wrongs, both minor and major, committed against her people. But there is beauty and love and the resilient power of forgiveness there as well, creating a novel that is as complex as it is simple in its demands for justice.

Reporting the Zeitgeist: Journalism, Literature, and Social Movements

In a review of The Unwinding by George Packer, Thomas Frank laments the failure of journalism to affect reforms to help a middle class that is in the throes of economic decline. As he writes, that failure “should perhaps call into question the utility of journalism and argument and maybe even prose itself.” His is an age-old complaint. In the years following 9/11, critics decried the failure of the novel to adequately voice how much this event changed and affected American lives. Since then, there have also been cries that novelists fail to capture the zeitgeist in a post-economic decline. That’s all well and good. It certainly speaks to the hope that the novel still has relevance in our social media-besotted world.

Frank’s complaints however speak to a far deeper concern. More than ever America is facing problems associated with social and economic inequality. The middle class is disappearing before our very eyes while poverty rates are soaring. And yet, in spite of this, no one seems able to address these problems. Congress has been ground to a standstill with Republican obstructionism, forcing Democrats and President Obama to take inadequate, halfhearted steps to ameliorate the damage. The American public likewise has been muted. A few years ago, Occupy Wall Street rose to the challenge and called out the financial institutions that have plundered the economy and have been allowed to continue with business as usual. And while OWS continues in some form (they’ve been particularly successful with their Rolling Jubilee campaign by buying off debts in bulk from banking institutions), they have yet to form a massive coalition with their bold ideas on attacking debt and inequality. The U.S. debt incurred by outrageous spending during the Bush years have gone down. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s due to the austerity measures imposed by Congress because of the Sequester. So the economy has been allowed to grind its heels, growing at a slow pace while Wall Street continues to reap financial benefits.

Frank correctly points out the dilemma of journalism and prose to address these deep inequities: Does prose still have the power to influence and effect change as it did over a century ago? In his review, Frank points out the plethora of books on the economy alone that have been published in the past decade, each one with titles that scream of an impending economic doomsday, and each one bearing very little social and political impact. There is an alarming and almost comical (if it weren’t so depressing) effect to the titles that were published––Age of Greed, The Age of Austerity, The Age of Turbulence; The Betrayal of the American Dream, The Looting of America, Why America Failed. They recall a time, so long ago, when I used to read books by the dozens with such titles, books including Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and Frank’s own What’s the Matter with Kansas?, which answer questions about who controls what and who benefits from our current state of affairs. They were eye-opening and informative, particularly The Shock Doctrine, which had predicted the austerity measures now taking place in developed nations through the neoliberal policies that wrecked the economies in South America. They helped me to shape my own politics, which, very briefly, led me to the Green party. Unfortunately they were also repetitive and didn’t offer much in the way of real world solutions.

I should note here that I have yet to read Packer’s The Unwinding, though I’ve heard much about it and would like to read it soon. I’m far more interested in Frank’s overall argument about the usefulness of journalism because, as I’ve written previously, it is one that has been argued before. The arts in general has been accused of failing to rouse the masses out of their stupor to foment revolutions or, at the very least, political reforms. Where have all the protest music gone? a cry went up following the war in Iraq, even though such criers took time to mention artists like Neil Young, the Dixie Chicks, the Coup, and others that have written searing indictments against that foolish invasion. Where are the great novels or movies about that war or the economic downturn, others have said, while yet again, pointing out such examples, like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Incredibly Fast and Extremely Loud or John Updike’s The Terrorist, that did just that. Still others cried that there was no definitive novel released in the past ten years which had sharp and incisive insights about that day on the measure of The Great Gatsby several generations ago. Anis Shivani was perhaps pointing this out in a blistering attack against the mediocrity of contemporary writers when he wrote:  “On the great issues of the day, they are silent…they desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded.” Or, in other words, the failure of literature to boldly embrace political ideologies is due in no small part to the fact that contemporary writers, those denizens of MFA programs, have turned literature into navel-gazing, creating work about domestic, mundane, first-world problems to be read and critically analyzed by academics. “We like to remember the muckraking era,” as Frank writes of journalism’s similar failures, “because of the amazing real-world transformation journalism was able to bring; our grandchildren will remember our era because of the big future naught accomplished by our prose.”

While it is true that mainstream media does an atrocious job of informing the public, the truth is much more nuanced and not always terribly flattering toward the American public. While I’ll agree that literature, journalism especially, has a social responsibility to inform and engage, that responsibility can only go half-way. Little is said or written about the responsibilities of citizens. Perhaps the real problem here isn’t so much the failure of literature to engage in the public but in unrealistic expectations of what literature is able to do.

Like so many critics, Frank seems to think that journalism or prose itself created the revolutionary paradigmatic shifts that led to social and economic reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries and not the American people themselves. The muckraking era he speaks of was also a part of the Progressive Era, which arrived at the heels of the Populist Movement, both of which were brought into fruition by an engaged, involved, and, yes, informed citizenry. If journalism and literature influenced the masses, it was only because the masses influenced journalists and novelists. One is dependent on the other; one cannot exist without the other. And public alone determined how they engaged with the information available to them. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was based on his research about exploitative labor practices in Chicago meatpacking plants. Yet his depictions of the poor sanitary conditions in these plants, not to mention the various body parts that were ground up with the meat, outraged the public so much that it pushed for legislative reform. Out of this reform came the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some forty years later, John Steinbeck, along with photographer Dorothea Lange, had far better success with a newspaper series he wrote for the San Francisco News called “Harvest Gypsies.” Again the public was so moved by the plight of the Okies in California during the 1930s Dust Bowl that it pushed the federal government to take action. Child labor laws were strengthened and food and economic relief was provided.

But these examples did not exist in a vacuum. They were part of social movements that sought reforms through the political process. Americans had far greater trust in the government as an efficient tool for these reforms and exercised their responsibilities as citizens by staying informed through newspapers and/or radio. These were hardly perfect times. Racial inequalities were still enormous and even the most liberal of organizations failed to fight for social justice for blacks and women. Some of the New Deal’s biggest supporters were Dixiecrats, while some of the country’s worst anti-immigration laws were passed during the Populist and Progressive eras. Yet these movements did build the foundation onto which future civil and political rights activists were able to fight. And this was all the doing of the American people.

The trap that Frank and so many others fall into is in believing that the people are without agency and are in need of an elite to prod them to action. But this is simply not the case. If prose fails to influence the masses, it is only because the masses refuse to be influenced or they are already influenced but fail to know what to do about our current dilemma. The latter seems to be the more likely answer, since polls have shown that Americans are not deaf, dumb, and blind to the social conditions around them. In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 44% of respondents polled that the government shouldn’t have bailed out the banks; 53% think that the banks haven’t been prosecuted enough, while only 30% believe that banks help economies grow and create jobs. A healthy majority also believe that the wealth gap created by bankers, traders, and financial executives is still too large. Clearly Americans get it. The real question we face is: What do we do about it?

If there is a failure of prose and journalism it is this: failing to provide Americans with that answer. As I wrote before, one of the reasons I stopped reading books about the economic and political conditions in this country was precisely because they were more diagnosis than cure. But that should not be the responsibility of writers, pundits, and journalists. Rather, we should be paying more attention to what people are doing in the trenches, the people out there who are fighting back often under the radar of the media spotlight. These are the activists who are fighting against the assault on women’s reproductive rights, against voter suppression laws and civil liberties, against the attacks on labor and unions, and against corporate money in politics. The American people do not need to be educated or lectured to about their social condition. They are living it every day of their lives. Rather what they need are game plans: a way out of our current situation and a way toward building a sustainable consensus toward social, political and economic justice. This is not, nor has it ever been, the work of writers. Our job is to observe, record, sympathize with, and illuminate the people, mood and events that shape our zeitgeist. In the end, it is ultimately up to the American people to decide on what to do next.