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A Movie... and a Book

Daniel Wagner

(Vintage)

Life is a game: it’s a movie and it’s a book. It’s not always easy, but there is always a way. You just have to look at it the right way.
—Daniel Wagner


Daniel Wagner’s novella A Movie… and a Book opens with an unknown first person narrator describing a movie on the screen. We then switch to reading the shooting script for a few scenes before settling into a third person description of a movie of the book’s events. How post-modern. Yawn.


Jim Frazier is a grocery clerk by day, frustrated writer by night. The reader is meant to experience the process of creating a novel via Jim and his musings on what’s interesting versus what’s salable. Essentially, A Movie… and a Book is a novel about writing a novel, which in terms of irritating and clichéd artistic gestures, is second only to movies about starving actors written and directed by actors, Garden State not withstanding.


In the opening scene of the film, Jim and his wife have an absurd argument over remodeling a room that culminates with her smearing shoe polish on the walls. They share no other scenes, though we are introduced to Jim’s children, Pete and Sarah, and Arnold, his young co-worker, as we follow Jim and observe small moments in his life through his eyes. Nuggets of Jim hitchhiking and riding a train showcase the best writing in the book. For however much talent the writing in those section suggest, it is not enough to hold the book together.


Jim finds his antithesis in his brother Andy, a man of big ideas and actions. Even Pete is in awe of his ability to be the big brain behind television commercials. Rather than having a fully developed relationship, Wagner settles for letting Andy be Jim’s foil as the two embark on a mysterious plan.


Liz and Lou are young people stranded on an island after a boating accident that neither can recollect. We eavesdrop on them telling stories to one another (“Most people don’t like stories like this. They think stuff has to explode all the time, or people have to run around naked and all. Or things have to be cute as hell.”), and darting around the topic of their affection for one another. They are bizarrely unconcerned about their situation, preferring instead to wax philosophical about this whole movie and a book business.


The titular idea of the book is that life is a movie, or a book, depending on circumstances. Movie moments are “strange or crazy”, like, say, being stuck on a deserted island with no knowledge of how you got there. Life is a book when “someone tries to find a way through something difficult or something sad,” such as working in a grocery store when you want to be a writer. Wagner uses 112 pages of granny type to essentially say the same thing as every stoner I met in college, “Dude, what if we’re all a plot in, like, some other dude’s story?”


Jim says to his brother Andy, “I tried to become this perfect writer that can write best sellers like a machine. It’s crazy but it’s true. And if you don’t follow the trend, and try to do your own thing, they look at you as if you’re crazy.” Well, Mr. Wagner, not if you do it well, and sadly, A Movie… and a Book does not.

Born and raised in the cultural wasteland of Santa Rosa, California in 1980, Jodie spent much of her early childhood competing in track and field until she could no longer tolerate scheduling conflicts between practice and Punky Brewster. In 2000 she received a B.A. in Anthropology and moved to Los Angeles, making guest appearances in London; Portland, Oregon; and Oakland, where she met her husband. A full-time writer, Jodie has completed an as of yet unpublished novel and contributes to PopMatters as a TV columnist, book reviewer, and the occasional feature.


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