Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day with Russell Banks



The Reserve is a clever, incisive, and passionately romantic novel of suspense that adds a new dimension to Russell Banks' extraordinary repertoire. Event host, Terry Meagher writes about this Valentine's Day event.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As it was Valentine's Day, some lit votive candles strategically placed would have enhanced the mood; I had so wanted to whisper over the intercom: "Chuck, Mr. Banks is ready...would you please dim the lights? Thanks!" Russell arrived at 7:20P, time enough for a cup of joe and a quick smoke. The seventy-ish author appeared quite hip and dapper: sporting a diamond stud earring, wire-frame glasses, neatly trimmed beard, and v-neck sweater under a navy blue blazer, a lapel bearing a tiny pin with what appeared to be a graphic of a
cannabis leaf in silhouette (though on closer inspection, it was of a slightly different flora design).

Russell talked about the origins (both conscious and subconscious) of his novel, essentially rehashing the notes (he admitted as much) included at the back of the book's ARC (the protagonist is loosely based on the famous depression era artist and leftist radical Rockwell Kent). The author spoke at length about his writing in general; how he identifies a mystery, usually something he doesn't quite understand or perhaps even fears, and through a process undergirded by brutal honesty and open-mindedness, discovers certain truths not only about his characters, but just as often about himself. He has a tremendous trust that by mining his own inner life he will connect on some - often, it turns out - deeper level with the interior lives of his readers (regardless of subject matter or cultural context). This spiritual intensity, this invigorating of our souls, seems to be born out with readers around the globe; Russell is constantly amazed at how well his novels do in translation. "How does it read in - say Hebrew?" he wonders.

Russell addressed the inevitable question of how he feels about the movies based on his novels - Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter. He does not proscribe to the Hemingway attitude of "getting in your car, driving west to the Nevada state line and throwing your book over the border, then waiting for Hollywood to toss back a sack of money". While he has quibbles with the films, he has discovered that he quite enjoys the collaborative nature of movie-making. The commercial and critical success of these two previous "indies" has allowed Russell - in his new role as Producer - to negotiate film rights with some semblance of creative control: specifically, final (!) approval of the director, screenplay, and casting. For the upcoming film The Darling, based on his novel of the same name, the author/producer recently granted Martin Scorsese director approval. (Russell is looking forward to his collaboration with Scorsese, if for the only reason that he and the renown director are close in age; usually, the author finds himself surrounded by people 35 years his junior, creative types with "perspectives on the Universe wildly different from mine".)

GIFTED* BOOK: Mothers and Sons: Stories Colm Toibin - PB Version. Since he's traveling "light", I also
GIFTED
** VALENTINE CANDY: one of those wonderful chocolate bars "
with a love poem inside". (Russell must have been famished; I later spotted the torn and scuffed wrapper on the floor of the garage elevator, a chocolate thumbprint on the "DOWN" button.)

*since when is the word "gift" a damn verb?

**since when?!

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