Tuesday, October 25, 2011


For all of the dark subject material I've been reading about as of late - suicides, drug use, depression, soccer - you probably wouldn't expect the most depressing book I've read in a while to be about a script rewriter. Especially given that the cover of the book contains a page from the script of one of my all time favorite movies, the uplifting Breaking Away. Nonetheless, this book was one big book of defeatism.

Karoo was another book from the small press collection at my library, this one published by Open City Books. The author, Steve Tesich, actually did write the screenplay to Breaking Away as well as The World According to Garp. Karoo is far closer to the latter than the former.

Saul Karoo is a guy Hollywood execs hire to fix scripts. Saul doesn't think much of his work and feels that he does more harm than good to the scripts on which he works. Even though artistically the revised movies may be lacking, once he fixes a script, the revisions tend to have box office success.

Saul is going through an incredibly amicable divorce with his wife, so much so that the proceedings have been going on for years, with occasional dinners out together to iron out details. Saul has a son in his twenties that he and his wife adopted as a newborn. Makes good coin, has a family, well-respected in his field...what does Saul have to be unhappy about?

Everything. He avoids his son like the plague. He's gained a ton of weight and can't quite land the caliber of girl that he feels he should, especially when trying to show off for Hollywood execs. The dude has no self-respect and doesn't care much for others either. He's middle aged and definitely feeling the crisis coming from his sense of meaninglessness.

He finds meaning when he's brought in to rework a movie done by a legendary movie writer. Saul watches it, realizes it is an artistic masterpiece, and proceeds to deconstruct it into a romantic comedy. During the process, a waitress with a bit part in the original movie laughs and Saul recognizes it from a phone call over two decades before. It is the laugh of his son's biological mother, a woman Saul got to talk to on the phone after she delivered her baby which Saul and his wife adopted.

Saul tracks her down, uses the cut footage of the film to make her the star of the revised script, and creates a new family of himself, his son, and his son's biological mother. He doesn't tell either of the other two the truth about their relationship, hoping to spring the news on them at the premiere of the movie.

Even though Saul has created this movie script life for himself, he still isn't happy. When things turn sour, the book goes even further downhill.

The book seriously put me into a funk for days. Tesich writes well and the book is long because it's almost entirely in Karoo's head. Every single thought process, it seems, is covered. It's more coherent than a simple stream of consciousness but there's a lot of noise surrounding the story's signal. It's just sad. At least I think so.

Reflecting on the book, I was reminded of the movie Oscar and Lucinda, a movie that I first watched when I was going through a tough time in my life and that I thought was the saddest movie I had ever seen. Years later I re-watched it and couldn't believe I had thought it was so sad. The second time through the movie I thought Ralph Fiennes overacted so much as to make the movie right near unwatchable. So I might be unduly influenced by my own recent thought processes when it comes to Karoo.

And for all the gloom, it's still a good, well-written book. Once again, it's not a book for everybody but I think it is one that has enough merits to make it worth reading.


Strasburg-Heisler Library said...
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JJ said...

Wow, your library sure has some downers. Have you ever heard of an author named Patterson? I think it's James Patterson. Oh, he is a genius. And his books are really exciting because his writing style is riveting. If the subject matter ever gets too depressing, you can just look at the back cover to see a picture of the author himself - I've found there is no staying in a funk when hunky Patterson is looking at me with his author eyes.