Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reading: October Baby by Eric Wilson

Okay.  To start off this review I must state, as I usually do it seems, why I picked up this book.  I heard of October Baby from a friend on Tumblr.  I was scrolling through her page and saw this movie poster and I watched the trailer and literally started crying.  I began watching lots of behind the scenes stuff for the film and even downloaded the soundtrack but had no means to see the film at the time so I basically had to sit and wait desperately for the film to come out on DVD.  To my satisfaction, I saw there was a novel version so I decided to buy it.  October Baby is essentially about a girl named Hannah who discovers that she is the result of a failed abortion attempt.  Being someone who is pro-life, this message is something that I hold close to my heart and I knew I had to divulge into the story sooner or later!
Immediately after I finished the book, I had the luxury of watching the film on Netflix!  If you have Netflix, I would recommend you watch this film!  It is truly special.  The film isn't anywhere near the status of the Dark Knight but it is a typical drama movie with a lot of heart! Would I recommend you read the book?  Not so much.  In fact, avoid it at all costs.
It isn't a usual occurrence to see me state that I liked the movie better than the book.  The only film off hand that I can think of that I liked better than the book would be the Wizard of Oz and Phantom of the Opera.  Anyway, the book is an exact adaption of the film with a few minor scenes added that seem to be there to serve the purpose of adding depth but actually make this book worse (just a note, this book was written after the film so it is adapted from the film).  So what made the film way better than the book if it was exactly the same?  Well there were a lot of things.  I've never read Eric Wilson before so I was going into this read with fresh eyes.  I've heard of most of his novels though.  The book started off on a nice pace, but as it continued it became loaded with childish descriptions and awkward character interaction.  The dialogue and scenes was word for word with the film despite some additions but the way Wilson wrote the book was just a turn off.  Character interaction was forced and vague yet in the film it was much more believable when the actors spoke (though I can't say the dialogue was good in general).  The characters had virtually no depth to them.  Scenes that I didn't find compelling in the novel were ones I liked in the film.  I almost wish that I had watched the film first to be honest because the novel became so frustrating to read that I contemplated just not finishing the book when I was halfway through.  The book did get me to cry at one point though so I will give Wilson a little credit there but more credit seems to go to the screenwriters who originally wrote the script for October Baby the film which Wilson adapted word for word (did I mention this novel is adapted word for word from the film?).
I think that was another issue with this book...that it was adapted WORD FOR FREAKING WORD!  Films and novels are very different arts.  That is why it is so hard for filmmakers to stay close to a book's plot because some things that can be done in writing can't be done in film, and vice versa.  I have watched many great films that aren't adapted from books and have even tried to write Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl out as a novel.  I wrote it for fun of course but as I made it past the first scene and into the second scene, I realized my approach was completely inadequate.  All I was doing was taking each scene and trying to write it out but I was very aware of the fact that my writing was sloppy and frustrating.  It would take more than simply rewriting scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean to make it into a good and readable novel.  I would have to change certain things for character point of view, I would have to switch scenes around since the film is constantly switching back and forth between perspectives in a way the novel just can't compete with, and I would have to really figure out the characters in a deeper sense because novels have the ability to take us into a character's mind the way most films can't.  And full disclosure, I am not working on this writing project anymore.  It was fun to think about but a lot more stressful to go about.
The story of October Baby is incredible though.  Again, credit must go to the screenwriters and not Wilson.  (I'm not trying to be a Wilson hater here though it seems I am coming off as one.  I've heard good things about his other novels so maybe one day I will give them a chance.  I think this one ultimately failed because of the way Wilson went about adapting it.  It isn't necessarily a bad read but if you want a book that is written in a literary fashion without the Christian sugar coating that has become all too familiar in spiritual fiction, this book will not satisfy you).  I really felt I could relate to Hannah.  Actually, I felt like I related to Hannah a lot. Our situations are obviously very different but the way she felt about acting was the way I feel about writing and she definitely feels left out because she'd rather not get involved in things that most kids our age get involved in.  I also felt like her character specifically was full of complications and anger that really draws the audience to sympathize with her.  I can't even imagine the weight of not only being adopted but knowing I wasn't supposed to exist.  It is a hard pill to swallow.  Another thing I love about the story is that while it is surrounded by Christian routes, it doesn't shove them down your throat.  It maintains the theme that every life is beautiful but never actually states this in the film but allows you as the audience/reader to come to the conclusion yourself.  I found that very powerful.  That being said, while the story was incredible, that doesn't override the fact that the writing was awful and the approach to the story wasn't much better.  Reading this book is the equivalent to watching a Lifetime movie.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you see the film on that network shortly. 
Ultimately, October Baby is an amazing story and a semi-good film with a great message about forgiveness and the unborn.  However, the book is full of petty descriptions, poor scene structure, and the typical watering down of literary merits to contain sugar coatings that many Christian novels today seem to contain.  I will give it 2 out of 5 stars because even though I thought the book was poorly written, the story is one I would encourage everyone to experience.  The best way to experience it, in my opinion, is to just visit YouTube.com and look up behind the scenes videos.  The movie making process and interviews and even the trailer hit home more than the film/book could ever accomplish.  Also watch the music video titled "Life is Beautiful by the Afters" and that will get you crying.  It is just a shame because I had such high hopes for this reading/film experience and I am overall disappointed.  I wish beyond wish that Christian artists could create a story that wasn't life a Lifetime movie.  It seems like the October Baby crew should start taking advice from Steve Turner's Imagine.

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