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Book Details

Title:   To The White Sea
Author:   James Dickey
Times Read:   1
Last Read:   02.13.24

Other Books Read By This Author (0)

Notes History
Date Read Note
02.13.24 Lots of context on this one. Back in the early 2000s the coen brothers had an incredible track record. From Blood Simple to O Brother, Where Art Thou (I can't remember if this anecdote happened before or after The Man Who Wasn't There), I think the only movie of their I didn't absolutely LOVE was Hudsucker Proxy (and even that one had its moments). So around this time, the rumor was that their next movie was going to star Brad Pitt as a fighter pilot who goes down in WW2 pacific and has to survive through the jungle. It was going to have no dialogue and it was called To The White Sea. Well, that movie never got made... and perhaps in reaction? surely with other factors going on too, they made Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers instead. A Confounding double feature of mediocre movies that have never come together for me (and I tried very hard to like both). But then, after No Country for Old Men their work has been back to consistently interesting. Maybe not the astounding perfection of their early stuff but still way better than that middle slump. Anyway, I figured I'd never get to see that Brad Pitt war movie.

Twenty years later, I'm reading the latest Stephen King book and one of his characters is an aspiring poet and her mentor gives her an assignment to read a book by James Dickey. Not Deliverance - the one that everyone has read - but his last book. Guess what it's called.

BOOM! Wait a minute! I'd never thought that the coen move could've been an adaptation!? All of their movie up till then had been original screenplays (if you don't count Fargo which was based on a true story). Of course, post No Country, post Ladykillers and True Grit and Macbeth... why not? I looked up the Dickey novel which led to a google search on the coen script and now I've read them both and can finally put a button on that cool-sounding movie that never happened decades ago.

For starters, Brad Pitt doesn't land in the jungle, he lands in Tokyo! And he's not trying to get to the ocean, he's trying to get to Japan's northern island where it's cold! Because the character grew up in Alaska and thinks he could survive and live and be happy alone up there in the snow. WHITE sea. It's that poetic license that I was too dense to realize twenty years ago.

Other than that though, the book is a pretty interior read. There really is almost no dialogue, and the little that is spoken is really unique in structure. I have to say the whole book is written in a way that I can't help but connect to high school english lit class. I guess that's a good thing but my everyday reading palate is so pedestrian with stuff like King and Neal Stephenson that I'm not used to the character's internal thoughts flowing like Steinbeck or... what's that Canadian Author's name... the English Patient... Michael Ondaatje. Where the language is often so (I'm really straining to not use the word "poetic") figurative that sometimes you have a hard time understanding what's actually going on.

There's just a tinge of that here. Mostly the prose flows like the character's thoughts which are sometimes terse, sometimes repetitious, and sometimes floats off to memory or metaphors or whatever. But the flow of conscioussness type vibe doubled with lack of chapter stops really makes it feel like you are on this journey with him, even if plot-wise it feels like some random things happen without cause or logic.

I liked the book alright as of now. I suspect it will be one that I'll grow to like quite a bit as I think back on. It's certainly a departure from my normal fare. Not that I found it challenging to read or anything - quite the opposite - but again in that "english class" voice where sometimes shit is weird, probably to give teachers chances to ask clueless students what he REALLY means in that passage where he's talking about being a fisher marten.

Then I read the script. I'm not 100% convinced it would've been a classic on the level of Raising Arizona or Miller's Crossing or Big Lebowski, but it definitely would've been interesting. I feel like they cover a little bit of similar ground with Fargo (the gray wintery lack of horizon and extreme cold stuff) and No Country (the terse silent-ish protagonist and visual storytelling). I'm sure they would've killed the visuals, I'm sure Deakins would've shot the hell out of it, I bet Carter Burwell would've delivered on the score, but it would have been a weird one. Not quite Kundun weird, but weird. Multiple scenes of animal cruelty (which I'm sure they would've shot carefully), that random plot structure, and an ending which comes out of nowhere. Now, granted, this is just the script (and not even a shooting script at that. what I read didn't have complete sluglines or scene numbers or anything) so things might have changed, but as written it's a smart adaptation that has the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Considering it's the closest I'll ever get to watching the movie, I'm happy to be able to read it.

One final note on the nuts and bolts of how I read these. Oddly enough I could not find a kindle version on amazon and all that... a certain site had was a text file. So I converted that text file to kindle format and put up with the formatting which... to me it felt like an early OCR scan. Literal page numbers broke up sentences and paragraphs were formatted for the pages as they appeared in the physical book and there were many many typos as a "m" might get recognized as a "rn", things of that nature. I also think once or twice paragraphs were repeated and I can't be sure but in one spot it really felt like a paragraph or two was missing because there was a very abrupt pivot in the text. As I was finishing the book I was looking up reviews and found a different version on amazon that did have a kindle but all the reviews were about how awful the kindle formatting was... so I suspect that's what I read. It's better than ordering a paperback from the 90s and having to turn on my bedside lamp like a heathen, but it did prove to be an added layer to contend with.

Similarly, the script I found online was a PDF of scanned printed pages, so some pages were a little crooked, had weird markings, and several scans were incomplete so a line of text would be cut in half and the rest of that page was missing. If I hadn't JUST read the book that would've upset me more but as it was I could fill in the gaps no problem. In some respects these challenges made reading this story a bit of an adventure. Not one I'd choose willingly but still something I'm glad I was able to find and experience.

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