Friday, August 25, 2006

From Book to Film

In Santa Fe the other day I picked up a short story collection by Andre Dubus called Separate Flights. The first story in there seemed a little familiar, although I knew I'd never read this collection before. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is the title. May sound familiar to you, too, and that's because it was made into a film with Naomi Watts, Peter Krause, Laura Dern and Mark Ruffalo. As it happens, I had seen that movie, maybe on DVD, but reading the story (really a novella) I felt that I'd read it before, too. So I went onto Amazon and discovered that the novella has been published in a different edition--as part of a three novella collection under the title of that story. And the cover bears the photographs of the movie's stars. A tie-in.

The sense of having read a short story before is kinda like deja vu. Unsettling, that is. The first time I ever noticed it was in a collection by Ray Carver--except he had actually revised the story somewhat. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, anything that gave the world another Ray Carver short story is an action deserving praise; on the other hand, it would have been better for there to have been that many more actually new ones.

There's a terrible temptation for an author to "improve" upon older work and authors deal with this temptation in different ways. Some just refuse to re-read the older pieces; some refuse to allow earlier, "inferior" work to be included in comprehensive collections; and some revise. Henry James revised entire novels, in fact, which may have been a stupendous undertaking, even for him.

On the Dubus front, one more oddity: "The House of Sand and Fog" is attributed in many places to Andre Dubus, which it is, but it was written by his son who now uses the designation III, after his name. I can't think of any other American authors, father and son, both of whom have had good films made from their literary work. And yes, I make the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction. See comment below re: elitist B.


  1. Thanks for your linking help & I forgive Raymond Carver virtually anything, have you read the short story Short Cuts? Chilling.

  2. Carver came to UH while I was in the creative writing program there, shortly before he died, and actually edited a couple of pages of a story I was working on. Excising, extraneous bits, in fact. I feel fortunate to have known him even so briefly. A nice man.
    I think I've read everything he wrote except the poetry...
    Are you familiar with the controversy over how much his editor Gordon Lish may have cut from his early work? Check this link and tell me what you think:
    This would explain the 2 versions of "A Small, Good Thing." I thought the more expansive, later version (which may have been the pre-cut earliest version) more human and overall greater.