Monday, May 23, 2011

Sequels Which Were Worth the Wait

There is something very satisfying in reading about characters who age in real time along with their creators. Sometimes we have to wait many years to find out what ultimately happened to them. The books listed below were written years apart yet the characters were so vividly drawn that they stayed with us. You'll have to decide if the sequel rates as well as the original. Interestingly, at least one book of each pairing has been made into a movie over time.

Griffin Mill ( The Player by Michael Tolkin) is a commanding studio executive who the power to decide which screenplays will be successful, choosing perhaps 10 out of tens of thousands of submissions. He begins receiving death threats from, presumably, a rejected screenwriter. Mills is ruthless and thoroughly absorbed in his own career and advancing his way to the top of the heap.

Fifteen years later in The Return of the Player Griffin, by Hollywood standards, is broke and his life is falling apart. His second marriage is failing, he is both impotent and allergic to Viagra and may be charged with murder for the second time in his life. Concerned that the world is going to end, he schemes to amass enough money to escape to a deserted island.

Larry McMurtry first introduced Duane Moore in The Last Picture Show in 1966. McMurtry painted a portrait of small town life in Texas in the 1950s' with Duane and his friend Sonny, who were at odds over the beautiful Jacy Farrow. They were restless and bored. They endured school and work and lived for football.. Some wanted out of Thalia, others couldn't comprehend the world beyond. The Last Picture Show is both funny and a little sad as these children stumble toward adulthood and leave adolescence behind.

Many many years later we meet Duane once again in Rhino Ranch. Duane, divorced in his 60's, returns to Thalia a lonely man. There he meets K.K. Slater who is running a rhino sanctuary. Duane is no less preoccupied by sex than he was in his youth. Although his lovers and friends are passing away, Duane continues to make new connections. If you would like to catch up on Duane's activities in the intervening years read Texasville, Duane's Depressed and When the Light Goes.

Thanks to Forrest Gump by Winston Groom we all know that life is like a box of chocolates and stupid is as stupid does. If you only know Forrest from the movie version, you will be very surprised by Forrest Gump the novel. Gump is a big boy, 6'6" with an IQ of 61. Gump, in fact, is not an idiot (as he refers to himself) but a mathematical genius who does not conform to normal standards of intelligence. Movie Gump is oh so moral, but novel Gump has the same flaws as the rest of us. He goes through life making pithy statements about the world as he goes from one outrageous activity to the next. He is a war hero, a ping pong player, an astronaut, a chess player on a desert island with a Yale educated cannibal, a shrimper and finally a street musician in New Orleans.

Later in Gump and Co it is the 80's and Gump is involved with Oliver North. Who starts the riot which brings down the Berlin Wall? Why Forrest of course! And on, and on. Jenny, the love of his life from the first novel, guides him from beyond the grave to provide a life for himself and little Forrest.

During pregnancy Harriet knew that there was something wrong with her fifth child. In Fifth Child, Doris Lessing explores society's outcasts. On the surface Harriet and David had built the perfect life and family. The reality was more troubling. There was no financial base to support this dream of the big family in the rambling house and there was no core foundation within them to cope with Ben. Ben, their fifth child, seemed to be a throwback to an unevolved member of our species. Troll-like, Ben was violent and troubled. He killed pets, terrorized his siblings and eventually had to be removed from the home. Harriet couldn't bear to have him institutionalized and brought him back to the detriment of her family. Teenage Ben eventually leaves the home to roam the world with a band of misfits and criminals. Is there any way, this dark and harrowing story could turn out well for poor Ben. Well, no.

In Ben in the World Ben hasn't the intelligence to understand that he is prey to criminals and ne'er-do-wells. He does find some small kindness from a few women, but they don't have the power to protect him. Ben the child is a terrifying creatures, but Ben the young adult is to be pitied. Lessing provides a sad statement on how society treats its misfits.

Alexandra, Jane and Sukie are disorganized witches in John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick. In this Hawthornesque fantasy, the witches come under the spell of the devil himself Darryl Van Horne. He is a fast-talking, hot tub soaking charmer. The witches become jealous when Jenny, the daughter of Sukie's late lover, arrives and takes his attention. Together, through voodoo, they cause Jenny to contract cancer and die. They are wracked by guilt, frightened of their own powers and feel threatened by the angry community. They whip themselves up some husbands to escape the whole situation. The Witches of Eastwick is a funny, steamy social commentary. So what eventually happens to three witches who conspire to murder and manufacture husbands?

In The Widows of Eastwick the witches are now in their seventies and widowed. They meet once again in Eastwick at the scene of their guilt. They fall back into their witch-like habits and discover that they have yet to pay for Jenny's death.

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