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Faulkner: which should HBO adapt?

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William Faulkner
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Earlier this week, HBO re-upped its commitment to work with Deadwood creator David Milch for several more years; more specifically, Milch has the incredibly open-ended task of creating a series and original movies for the cable network based on any of the 19 novels and 125 short stories in William Faulkner’s estate. While Milch hasn’t yet decided on any titles to adapt, several authors have weighed in on the works they would or wouldn’t want to see on television.

Salman Rushdie, who’s currently writing his own series for Showtime, told Slate, “Unoriginally, I look forward to Sanctuary and The Sound and the Fury.” While most Faulkner fans would think As I Lay Dying (good luck, James Franco) would also be an obvious choice, writer Francine Prose doesn’t think so: “I can’t imagine the line ‘My mother is a fish’ sounding great coming out of my TV.” Apparently, Prose isn’t familiar with Deadwood — Milch isn’t exactly concerned with pretty dialogue. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had Vardaman say, “My mother is a m—–f—in’ fish.” Prose also thinks Milch should rely heavily on narration to preserve Faulkner’s beautiful language. I’d have to disagree with that as well. Good filmmakers typically rely on voice-over only when necessary, and it’s the director’s job to translate great description into great visuals.

I’d be most excited to see Absalom, Absalom! of Faulkner’s novels, but I really hope Milch does “A Rose for Emily,” one of Faulkner’s creepiest, most accessible short stories. It’s about the reclusive Emily Grierson, who’s the object of a small Southern town’s never-ending gossip and fascination. The story brilliantly blends tragedy with the macabre as it’s revealed [SPOILER ALERT!] that Emily has been sleeping next to the corpse of an old love for several decades.

Even though Faulkner’s work is rarely straightforward and always full of subtleties, if anyone can pull off an adaptation, it’s HBO and Milch. They haven’t shied away from complicated characters and story lines in the past, and a series or miniseries would give them the necessary amount of time to explore subtleties that other mediums wouldn’t allow.

What Faulkner works would you like to see HBO take on?

Follow Stephan on Twitter.

Read more:

2011 National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward on her love for Faulkner

What books are, in your opinion, unfilmable?

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