Part of the adaptation process is determining which parts of the work of literature hold weight, or importance, and which are insignificant light details. However, light aspects still must be included to counter the weight – the only way to recognize that certain parts do hold weight, is to be aware of how they differ in relation to the light. Adaptation is a process of including some plot points, and dismissing others. It is about focusing in on what points of view should be included, and which can be left out of the adaptation. Which characters are integral to the adaptation, and which are not? When it comes to adaptation, it is about selection.
When it came to figuring out how to adapt My Sister’s Keeper, I looked for what aspects of the text stuck out to me, which ones held weight in my mind. Also, which parts did I find myself drawn to over and over again, dissecting them, questioning them, trying to make “light” of them? Which aspects of the novel emphasized the dichotomy between lightness and heaviness?
I thought about the catalyst. This, to me, was highly important. The catalyst holds a lot of weight. In this novel, the catalyst was Anna trying to rid herself of the burden of holding her sister’s life in her hands. The journey then, in a sense, is Anna’s quest for lightness. She wants freedom of choice. Looking at this story as a journey for lightness seemed like a good story line to follow for the adaptation process. The family works hard to fight Kate’s impeding death, to try to keep her young and alive and light. The goal of the book is to obtain this lightness and make the world a bit less heavy. Seger mentions that the easiest story lines are about a mission or achieving some goal. Seger mentions that one can usually find a beginning, middle, and end of a story by asking 3 questions:
- What does the character want?
- What does the character do to achieve that goal?
- When does the ‘want’ begin?
Using these three guiding questions, I encompassed my adaptation around the quest to obtain the lightness at the end of the tunnel However, because lightness is never independent of heaviness, but measured by the degree of heaviness, I wanted to also include road blocks. Life is not always light, but is often times dark and hard to overcome.
Seger writes: “Novels and films express themselves in different ways. Fiction uses words to tell a story, describe character, and build ideas. Films use image and action” (27). Here comes the trouble with adapting: how do we take a complicated text, where words can help clarify thematic issues, plot devices, character traits, and translate that solely into images? How can we take a text that is quick through its theme, its narration, its use of point of view, and put that into a visual display?
This is when I thought back to Calvino – how is this story quick? How does the storyline lend to quickness? And then it hit me. The storyline is about how quick our innocence bubble is popped. It is about accepting reality, coping with change, living with consequences, learning that every action has a reaction. Every word we speak, every word we don’t speak – people notice.
Seger talks about the journey. If we are viewing this story with regards to how quickly people lose their innocence, then the journey is one of discovering reality. The goal, then, is learning to accept it. There is a fluidity to Picoult’s book, despite the fragmentation of points of view. There is a propelling movement through this fluidity – a sort of pulse. And this motion guides us on the journey – giving us details that build upon details, speeding us forward.
Every character experiences the moment when they realize life is not as stable as they once believed. At one point, Kate and Anna’s mother says: “Driving home, I am struck by the sudden thought that the world is inflatable – trees and grass and houses ready to collapse with the single prick of a pin” (Picoult 34). Here is her epiphany. Life can be popped and can collapse quickly.
Another issue to identify when it comes to adaptation, is figuring out the catalyst and knowing the conflict. In this case, the catalyst is Kate. She has cancer, and because of this, her innocence, and the innocence of those around her, is taken. The conflict – how to cope with this news. A catalyst is the essence of quickness – it speeds up a reaction. Kate causes everyone to lose their innocence quicker than they probably would have. She speeds up the process of facing reality.
And finally, another layer of quickness present in this book, that is a catalyst for reality, is the idea of fire. Before each section opens up, there is a quote about fire. It opens up the chapter – it is literally the catalyst for each chapter. It ignites each story. To add a couple more layers to this: the dad is a fireman. The son starts fires to gain attention. The father is fascinated with stars, which are, in many ways, gaseous fires in the sky. Anna is named after a star. And like a star, she is quick – she flickers in and out of existence. At one point, the dad says the following: “A fire can’t burn forever. Eventually, it consumes itself” (Picoult 37). Fires are quick. They can be started quick. They can be stopped relatively fast. The effects, though, are long lasting.
Eventually time will run out – eventually it will be consumed.
Time is relative. Sometimes it seems like life is moving slow, so slow, that each second is dragging into the next, just barely inching along. Other times, it seems like the world is spinning, fast, too incredibly fast, that you just can’t breathe. Then there are the times,you reflect on how a day can seem so long, but how the week just flew right by. You think you just met a person, but it feels like it has been forever. One musical that I really enjoy is Rent. In this musical, there is a song entitled “Seasons of Love” and it talks about the ways in which people can measure time. There is no set way to measure how quick something happens, however, we all use like tricks to mark the passage of life.
Calvino described quickness as the shortest distance between two points. In literature, quickness has to do with style, theme, word choice, plot, characterization. A text that embodies quickness, though, also emphasizes the idea of digression. It illustrates how, if we get too caught up in the details, a quick text can “quickly” become slow. Also, sometimes a heavy idea can be diluted if it is told quickly, or if the idea changes rapidly after. Quickness can be used to make heavy ideas easier to deal with. It is also a means to uphold attention. However, quickness, like time, is not black and white.
My Sister’s Keeper embodies the idea of quickness in many ways. Most obviously, is the main plot: a young girl, Kate, is dying of leukemia. Her life is passing by at a rapid pace. It is limited. A sense that life is finite, seems to accompany the idea of quickness. We are quick, when we know we don’t have much time. The novel requires the other characters to make quick life or death decisions. Sacrifices must be made. However, the idea of an approaching death is quite heavy. It is slow and difficult to grasp. While Kate’s death is approaching at a fast pace, as she is in the final stages of renal failure, her death has been slow coming. She was diagnosed at the age of three. Her life is measured in relapses and remissions. It is about time slowing down, and then hoping it will speed back up and that she will get better. It has not been a question of will she die, but a question of when. The question of “when?” automatically situates the reader and characters to focus on time.
This fixation with time – how much time is left, how one is spending time, how time can be borrowed – all of these have to do with the idea of quickness. When we sense that time exists in an hour glass, we are forced to make wise decisions with what to do with our time, all the while knowing that as we sit and ponder, more sand is falling through the glass.
The way the book is written, also lends to its quickness. It is separated by days of the week. Each section is a different day, in chronological order. The book spans two weeks. Therefore, as the reader flips through the pages, he or she can’t help but be reminded of time and how quickly it is passing. With each day – or each section – Kate is closer to dying. Another method that Jodi Picoult, the author, utilizes, is differing perspective. There are about seven characters that she migrates between. This makes the pace seem quicker. It also helps diminish the heaviness of each passage. You read something deep or painful and intense, but then it is quickly over and you are on to the next person. It is used as a means of relief for the reader.
This makes me wonder if quickness is something we use to escape from really immersing ourselves in the hard stuff. If we can quickly brush something off, is this the simpler thing to do?
My Sister’s Keeper also involves a legal battle. Kate’s sister, Anna, was genetically modified to be the perfect bone marrow match for Kate. She was engineered and born to save her sister. She is, in essence, her sister’s keeper. However, the decisions were always made for her. She was quickly told to help her sister, but Anna never got the chance to really think about the implications. The novel centers around her realization that she wants control of her own body. She sues her parents for medical emancipation – or rights to her own body. Therefore, the sense that Anna is fighting not to give her sister the kidney that is need to save Kate’s life, adds to the urgency of Kate’s situation. It makes it all that more important that the court hearing occur quickly, so that the family can then figure out what to do with their lives.
Another way, perhaps one of the most poignant ways, in which quickness can be seen in this novel, is the way in which all the children in this family must mature at a rapid pace. Their innocence is taken away at a young age. They must cope with problems way beyond their years. Childhood, for them, occurs too fast.
The characters in this novel have most of their problems because things occurs too quickly – before they could breathe, gain control, really assess the situation. They had to be quick, or else they wouldn’t survive. Jodi Picoult crafts this book in a clever way by jumping from one narrative and one day to the next. She is forcing her readers to be quick, with the characters. She is telling us that we better keep up, or we will fall behind – that life can be rough and horrible and hard to grasp, but that we need to, and then we need to keep moving. Through her style, she creates a pulse, a propelling motion forward. Whether this is to Kate’s death or not, we are moving, we are discovering, we are learning, we are feeling. The journey is deep, but it is quick – much like life, itself.
An analogy of quickness can be found in The Wizard of Oz, the book and the movie. Here we are presented with a journey – of this idea that Dorothy is moving somewhere, namely on the yellow brick road. However, she is not standing still. The book is paced rather quickly, and each chapter seems like another episode, helping with the speed and adding a sort of rhythm to the narrative. The idea of quickness is also illustrated in how quick it is for an image or façade to burst. When Dorothy and her companions find out that The Wizard is nothing but an old humbug, and that Oz is not really green, they quickly change their perspective. Therefore, there is the idea of physical quickness – moving throughout Oz towards the Emerald City, and ultimately towards “home.” However, there is also the idea that thought moves fast – Dorothy and her companions must change the way in which they think. They must realize that what they lack is obtainable and that sometimes things aren’t what they seem. When Dorothy finally returns home, the reader is left with the feeling that while much happened in Oz, the journey, itself was fast-paced and quick.
Like in the E-lit, where you can’t get too caught up in trying to keep up with the letters, in The Wizard of Oz, you can’t get too caught up in the facade. You must move quickly through the Emerald City to escape its “greenness,” much like you must move quickly through the E-lit in order to keep up with the story.