Monday, March 02, 2009
Back in the early nineties I was still laboring under the mis-apprehension that I was going to be a fiction writer when I grew up. I was in Temple University's Master's program, and one of our visiting writers was Russell Banks. I got to lunch with him and Toby Olson, and partied one night with Olson, Banks, and David Bradley amongst others. Banks read some of my stuff and had kind things to say. Didn't encourage me to keep it up, alas--by my last semester in the fiction program I'd stopped writing.
At that time I'd only read Banks' Relation of My Imprisonment, which was a short hilarious spoof of Christian torture porn documents from the early Roman days. Shortly thereafter I read several of his books and liked them a great deal. When I met Banks he was writing Cloudsplitter and Rule of the Bone; Rule of the Bone, he told us, was the book he worked on when the "serious" book got too tiresome. I love those books, and hear that Martin Scorsese has signed on to film Cloudsplitter. This thrills me no end, because nobody does violence and spirituality and spiritual regeneration through violence like Marty. I hope he films it in black and white.
But back to Affliction, which I realized halfway in that I'd read before (it happens in middle age). What a great book. Nobody does small town woe like Banks, nobody so clearly understands the roots of redneck violence, and nobody has greater compassion for salt-of-the-earth types. When I read Affliction I read something quite similar to my childhood in Southern PA: the bleak New Hampshire town could be Stewartstown or Fairfield or Red Lion. When I read about Wade, I think I know him intimately, and can admire Banks' skill at capturing him so vividly.
A decent film was made from the book, but it's not as good as the film version of The Sweet Hereafter.