It may be presumptuous to suggest premises for novels (“Oh, somebody should write X,” which seems to strike a wheedling note). Why don’t you write it yourself, mate? On the other hand, there’s no pressure exerted by the mere suggestion. Who knows, maybe the thought will stick in the mind of a writer and, unnoticed at first, take root there. (Think of the Parable of the Sower.)
Speaking only for myself, I can’t resist expressing such hopes, silly as they may sound, unlikely as their chance of coming to fruition may be. Just yesterday I started reading Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” a story I’ve read many times before, but on this occasion in a new translation (by Boris Dralyuk). Some writer, I thought, should take Tolstoy’s story and transpose it to our own day, with a twist: Instead of dying, the protagonist will enter one of those places (“homes,” they’re sometimes called) where many old people are waiting to die.
Lately, also, I’ve gone on record as wishing that a number of novelists would be inspired to write about a character who seeks to lead a Christ-like life. Their books could go at this in any number of ways; there’s no single template for such an enterprise. I was surprised when, in response, many people said that above all such a novel must not come across as “preachy.” This seems odd, since didacticism is very much in fashion in fiction today. Perhaps it all depends on what you are preaching.
I also think about movies I wish someone would make, and TV shows (though I don’t see many of those nowadays). In 2007, inspired (if that’s the word) by news of a remake of the 1970s show The Bionic Woman, I suggested several other possibilities:
Bionic Housewife. Madison Miles is a young lawyer on the fast track. She and her husband, also a lawyer, have a daughter who is enrolled in an élite preschool. Madison is fluent in Chinese, Arabic, and Turkish and unwinds by playing the saz (a long-necked Turkish lute; the theme music for the series will feature Talip Ozkan). In the first episode, Madison is rushing to pick up her daughter when she is broadsided at an intersection by a drunk driver. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself in what looks like a futuristic hospital room. Turns out that Department 911, a shadowy unit formed when Homeland Security got bogged down in bureaucracy, has been keeping an eye on Madison with hopes of recruiting her. Intervening after her accident, they have rebuilt her shattered body. She is now a bionic woman.
The plan calls for her to resign from the law firm and become a stay-at-home mom who does a little “consulting” on the side: cover for occasional clandestine trips abroad. Many of her friends, despite their sympathy for her after the accident, berate her for her decision to give up a very promising career. After all, they argue, she seems to have made a phenomenal recovery. Now she’s setting such a bad example.
Of course she can’t tell them about her spywork, a secret that only her husband shares. What’s worse, she finds that she is actually enjoying being a mother at home. And when her daughter is at preschool or asleep, Madison can use her bionic powers for homemaking. In fact, much as she's loyal to her country, she'd really like to quit the spy business, but the department informs her—none too gently—that she owes the government her life. Moreover, she is no longer the person she was before the accident: She is a walking weapon.
How will she resolve this conflict? How will she fare against experienced foreign agents and the machinations of rogue elements in the U.S. intelligence community (not to mention bungling incompetents)? Will her bionic powers be inadvertently revealed in the wrong setting? Will her happy marriage survive the new realities? Will her daughter be put in jeopardy? Will all of her old friends forsake her? Was the “accident” that changed her life really an accident? Stay tuned.
Bionic Grrrls. This is more inchoate. I can give you the elements. Set in the future, but not too far distant. A girl band, all four members of which have chosen some form of bodily re-engineering. Global warming has started to have more pronounced effects (so much for the skeptics). Weird end-time cults flourishing. One member of the band is a Christian. Lots of music in the show (flavors of Beirut, Slavic Soul Party, Anouar Brahem).
Bionic Seniors. This is also set in the future, in an old folks’ home. People are routinely living to 120 years or even more. Enhancement of various kinds, including via genetic engineering, is commonplace. Alas, there has been such a hodgepodge of devices and techniques, the field rapidly advancing, that “maintenance” becomes increasingly difficult for aging subjects. A black comedy, extrapolating current trends, with some of the humor deriving from the human situation and some from the enhancements: One fellow has an extendable arm like the grabber in The Straight Story, and so on. Maybe this would be best in animation.
In his story about the reimagined Bionic Woman, Scott Collins says that executive producer David Eick was “interested in how to make a non-traditional drama with a female lead,” though Collins doesn’t explain what “non-traditional” means in this context. And when Eick says he “was very intrigued by the principle of how to push a female protagonist in a new direction,” we're again left wondering what “new” is intended to suggest.
I’ve just been emailing with a friend about Julian of Norwich. I would love to see a series about Julian, recreating her era in the manner of Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (and avoiding the ludicrous dissonance of so many historical epics). Or a series set today with a protagonist based on Julian. That would be new, and in a way, “non-traditional.”
If anyone is inspired to take up any of these ideas, or if these ideas morph into entirely different stories, I will be delighted. Twelve years on, I’m even more convinced that a show centered on Julian and her world could be splendid—and could find an audience. Which reminds me of another idea . . . but never mind.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books.
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