Monday, January 31, 2011

Writer, Interrupted



I didn't know until I got to the last chapter of Girl, Interrupted, the book, that it was named for a Vermeer painting. [Girl Interrupted at her Music] I don't know many painters because... it's not that I DON'T appreciate art, but I enjoy my aesthetics in a less cerebral way... I want to just.... enjoy them. Not think about or analyze... so it's a rare artist who has made himself known by name... Van Gogh is my favorite. His style is so distinctive. But Vermeer is part of the rare batch who has caught my attention BY NAME. It's because I find what he does with LIGHT really amazing. He brightens things he wants you to notice, but not so much that it doesn't still LOOK real, even though it isn't how it would really LOOK.

In other words, he is doing with a scene, what WE (writers) should be doing with a scene. The other stuff should be realistic, or it's distracting, but it shouldn't be EMPHASIZED. What should be emphasized are the things we want our reader to notice, and especially the main character and the things that matter to THEM.

This painting in particular is special, as the main character is looking out at US—she is engaging us. That's unusual in classic art—even unusual for Vermeer, other than his head shots, which tell us very little about the subject. Most of his paintings have music or art as their side themes, or so it appears from a quick glance, and often, the instrument outshines the musician. Here though, while the teacher and the music are brighter than the background, there is also brightness from the window... yet the girl is attending to US.

Yes, indeed. Very find example for a writer,



Girl, Interrupted, the BOOK

So I finished this on the way home from work Friday. I don't normally read non-fiction, but this was very skillfully done. Susannah Kaysen is articulate, observant and funny (considering how unfunny the situation really is). I was particularly impressed with her ability to walk the reader through delusional moments... weave us into how much sense they made to her at the time, while still letting us know she is not disconnected like that anymore.

It was a very poignant book, in that it contrasts her position both with the outside world, which she feels ill-equipped for, and the REAL crazies (a visit to Alice, who'd been with them briefly, then goes to the maximum security portion of the hospital, but even within her own ward, she acknowledges she and Georgina, her room mate, are 'least crazy')

Her descriptions of Borderline Personality Disorder, too, interested me. I am pretty sure I've known a few. But that aside, most of the time, this sounded very much like a diagnosis that is

Adolescence + Writeritis = Borderline personality disorder.

There were times she crossed lines... had delusions... but mostly she was plagued with a lack of interest in anything but writing or boys, an inability to make decisions, lack of engagement with others, unwillingness to follow the expectations of society...



Girl, Interrupted, the MOVIE

I can both see why they changed it, AND why Susanna Kaysen wasn't happy with it. It wasn't her story anymore in the movie—things added. Things subtracted. I know why they do it and usually I take issue—it's not necessary to alter details. But THIS book was a series of clips—not in order, in many ways separate from each other. It wasn't a single coherent story, but a series of short stories and a lot of thought. Unaltered, it wouldn't work on the screen—as a documentary, sure, but not as a feature.

The acting was good—heck, Angelina Jolie got an Academy Award for it. I think the whole cast did pretty well. But some of the issues in the movie were NOT Kaysen's issues. And a HUGE amount of it was exaggerated for the sake of a bigger story.


I am glad all this came up last week... that I asked all of your advice and you sent me this direction. I feel connected to this writer, mental illness or not. I think it's important articulate, writing representatives from all sorts of places, but I think madness is one of the hardest to truly understand, so I appreciate what she has done. I recommend the lot of them.

29 comments:

Cruella Collett said...

Great post - I like how you tie painting in with writing - clever as always! I never knew that about the title either. Dry kiwi fruit itches my mouth. I've had too much coffee and it is cold in my room. That was today's update from Tokyo.

Old Kitty said...

I really like the film!!!! I love how I now want to read the book and appreciate once more the painting and the painter after reading this fab post!!! Thank you for getting me most NAKED this grey cold Monday!!! Take care
x

Erica said...

By far one of my favorite films :) I've always felt a strong connection to it (that sounded bad...) I never got around to reading the book, maybe I should

Jessica Bell said...

Hmm I've seen the film but not read the book. Didn't think the film was crash hot. Thanks for the recommendation! :o)

Hart Johnson said...

Cruella-you know, I can TELL from your Tokyo report that you've had too much coffee and your mouth itches! Thank you!

Jenny-thank you! And I hope the UK isn't as COLD as it is here. It is MISERABLE nudist weather!

Erica-YAY for hitting a favorite film! The book is definitely a different flavor, but I loved it--then, I love psychology enough to have devoted two degrees to it.

Jessica-didn't like it, eh? too indulgent? Edges cleaned up? too close to reality? I would have thought you would--you look at those dark edges of life...

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

yeah, i like both the movie and the book for different reasons. I like to think of them as seperate entities, only loosely related

Jennee said...

Excellent post. I haven't seen the movie, read the book or know anything about the painting. Overall, this was a very educational experience...and now I want to watch the movie, read the book and go to an art museum. Congratulations, I've been inspired!

LTM said...

I remember vaguely liking the movie--I only saw it in the theater the year it came out. But the book sounds very interesting... Thanks, my friend~

Back to work w/me! :o) <3

Terry Odell said...

I had the same reaction when I read The Girl With One Pearl Earring. I'm another 'art-challenged' person.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Deb and Barbara said...

It's interesting how unexpected outside inspiration comes to us when we maybe least expect it but most need it. Whether it's a good book or a beautiful painting. These are both the perfect fit, aren't they? Definitely want to read the book now!
B
The Middle Ages

Hart Johnson said...

Sarah-well put... definitely a different feel. Part of me wanted to be disappointed they weren't more connected, but each considered alone, I liked them both.

Jennee--YAY for inspiring!!! My mission is accomplished!

Leigh-I think it is great reference for that shaky post adolescence... the mental illness is just gravy!

Terry-glad i'm not alone! And I should read that--it intrigues me, even though I only know a little about it.

Barbara-I was really pleased with how well that painting tied in when I went looking for it. I love when stuff unexpectedly ties to writing...

Simon C. Larter said...

I'm a sucker for artistic cross-pollination. Music, art, writing, dance...anytime you can connect different arts, I dig.

All of which to say: nicely done, good lady! (Well, tarty lady, but to me, that's good, so there you go....)

Colene Murphy said...

Wow! I really want to read that now. Sounds amazing!

Holly Ruggiero said...

I love Vermeer’s work. I didn’t know the book got its name from the painting. I liked your analyses of the painting, book, and movie!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad it helped you. I've not read the book - just seen the movie. (That should've surprise you...)

SY said...

that's the thing that sucks about movies based off books.. they tend to butcher it..

And I enjoyed your tidbit on the Artist that I didn't know by name..
-Sy

Talli Roland said...

I wasn't a fan of the movie, but after your review I might just read the book! Thanks for the review, and happy Wednesday! :)

Talli Roland said...

Um... Monday. Duh.

Hart Johnson said...

Simon-Cross-pollination is a good way to put this. Thanks Simon!

Thank you, Colene!

Holly-I really liked that twist--seems really fitting--the painting shows up early in the book, but not by NAME until the end--like book marks to her experience. It's very nice.

Alex-You've seen the movie?! SHOCKING! *snicker*

SY-I totally agree that often they don't pull it off AT ALL. This one, they don't exactly seem like they are the same thing--but they DO seem like two quality works based in the same 3rd thing.

Talli-I think it is defintiely informative from a writer perspective... (are you time traveling?) teehee

Ciara said...

I loved the movie. Great post! I love the way you tie art in with writing.

VR Barkowski said...

Really? That's one of my favorite Vermeers. Never occurred to me the title came from his painting. To be honest, I didn't care for the movie, only made it through about half, but the book sounds interesting. Uh oh, another book for my TBR pile.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

If only I could write like Vermeer paints! )

If I read the book, I don’t want to see the movie. If I see the movie, I don’t want to read the book. In this case I may make an exception as I’ve seen the movie, but it’s been a long time ago.

Steel Magnolia said...

I adore non-fiction. Memoirs. Historical accounts. Biographies. Travelogs. So glad that you are opeing up to the genre ... its nuances ... and its interpretations across multiple media. Hart, your insights are thrilling. Sheds new light on the book/movie. Cheers

Kathy McIntosh said...

I liked this book, also, and don't generally read non-fiction. It was a long time ago and I recall being amused and brought to tears. And I'd forgotten the link to the Vermeer painting. Even reproduced, his skill with light/emphasis is remarkable, as is your comparison to writing.

Dawn said...

Great post. I loved the movie and now really want to read the book

Lisa said...

I've neither read the book nor seen the film. Now I will.

I love how you connect the Vermeer to our writing scenes. Now when I read a scene, this will be what I remember.

Melissa said...

Wow. This post was fascinating - I didn't want it to end!

I need to check out both the book and movie now.

Missed Periods said...

I rarely read non-fiction either, but in the past year or so, I've picked up a couple of memoirs and they were wonderful: The Glass Castle and Jesus Land. I've seen the Girl Interrupted movie, but the book sounds fascinating.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I am pretty sure I would nto be able to handle the book right now. BUT, I love how to bring in one of my favourite painters into writing.