Today's Picks: A Family Cruise Gone Awry
An Ankler newsletter about available IP; I do the reading for you
Welcome Friday’s edition of The Optionist! Thanks for reading, and if you're here because someone forwarded this, I invite you to sign up and try us during our free beta period, coming to a close soon. And please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Also, if you aren’t a subscriber to The Ankler, our sibling, it’s Anxiety Week over there! Check it out.
I hope you got a chance to look at Wednesday’s all-history edition of the newsletter. I think there’s some great stories in there. My personal favorites are the two that involve car companies: Henry Ford’s almost comically inept attempt to turn a Brazilian rubber plantation into a suburban American town and the incredibly dramatic story of the Flint Sit Down Strike of 1936, a moment that truly changed American history.
Today we have a thriller from one of my favorite authors, a creepy horror story, a presidential biopic perfectly timed to current events, a family drama set on a cruise, and a bunch more.
BOOKS I LIKE (current)
The Lightning Rod by Brad Meltzer (Morrow, March 8) This is really a three book recommendation. I’ve long been a fan of Meltzer who, in addition to his adult novels, has had success with a great kids series (Ordinary People Change the World), comics (Identity Crisis) and was a creator on a criminally short-lived TV series (Jack & Bobby). So I’ve always been surprised his novels haven’t been adapted for the screen yet (though an animated Ordinary People was on PBS, and his non-fiction book The Lincoln Conspiracy, about an earlier failed attempt on the president, is in development). Someone should snap up the rights to his Zig and Nola present day series —The Lightning Rod is the sequel to The Escape Artist and a third book is planned. Zig is a mortician and Nola is an army battlefield painter (a real thing) who chase wide-ranging conspiracies in The Escape Artist and The Lightning Rod. Meltzer does a great job blending the real— he beautifully renders what happens to a soldier’s remains at Dover — with the imagined, all the time sprinkling in tidbits he’s learned from his research and fun historical figures (Houdini). But what distinguishes Meltzer is his ability to create fully rendered characters with heart. These books might work best as a limited series rather than a movie with each book a single season. (Think how TNT did The Alienist across two seasons) This is also a reminder that the rights to Meltzer’s first novel, The Tenth Justice, are available. There’s been a couple of attempts to bring it to screen and though it is almost 25 years old, someone should try again. The plot still works: Four friends starting their careers in Washington get caught up in a dangerous situation when one of them, a Supreme Court clerk, is duped into leaking a decision that allows someone to make a financial killing and their attempts to expose the criminal goes awry. Imagine St. Elmo’s Fire by way of a political thriller. REPS: WME
The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay (Morrow, July) In this psychological horror thriller, Art Barbara tries to make sense of the time in high school in the 1980s when he volunteered at funeral home to be a pallbearer for funerals short of them. One of the other volunteers is this super cool and mysterious slightly older woman with a weird obsession with taking pictures of the dead and uncanny knowledge of scary New England folklore. The book is presented as a memoir written decades later and it has a cool structure where the woman — who has an issue with the book — scribbles her own commentary in the margins. Art is left trying to figure out if she’s real or herself a supernatural entity out of an old ghost story. REPS: Anonymous Content
Our Right to Serve: The Black Cadets Who Challenged a President, Changed West Point and Inspired an Army by Ty Seidule (St. Martin’s, TBD) This is a great story about the Black cadets who rallied against President Nixon’s plan to put up a Confederate monument at West Point in the early seventies and won. Super timely with the debates about Confederate monuments and set at a dramatic moment in the Academy’s history as it was grappling with the Vietnam War and its own legacy of racism. Written by a retired general and former West Point professor. REPS: Fletcher & Co
Presidential biopic/current events
The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 by Jeffrey Frank (Simon & Schuster, March) This new bio of the 33rd president has been getting great reviews. It has been nearly 30 years since Gary Sinise played him in the eponymous HBO movie and the Ukraine war has got people thinking anew about the Cold War and its origins making it the perfect time for a new biopic that lays the groundwork for where we are today. There’s a great narrative device in Frank’s book — Truman liked to write pissy letters to his opponents he wouldn’t send as a way of blowing off steam — that could be used to help get inside Truman’s head at key moments. There’s lots of interesting moments but I think focusing on one — the Berlin Airlift — is my choice for the way it resonates with today’s events. Think of it like one of those great Cuban Missile Crisis movies. REPS: WME
BACKLIST GEMS (worth a second look)
“The Model Vanishes” by Vanessa Grigoriadis (New York, Dec 2000) This is a great example of how New York is mining its archive of optionable IP. (They have several other archival projects in the works, some announced, some not). This fascinating piece — actually Grigoriadis’ first ever story for the mag — tries to unravel the mysterious disappearance of Lourdes Gruart, a runaway model and jet setter in the 1980s (she dated Zeppo Marx’s son and Mohamad Khashoggi, the son of arms dealer Adnan and a cousin of both the ill-fated Jamal, and Dodi Fayed), who never quite made it big and whose career was faltering as she hit her mid-40s. Was her troubled snake-worshipping brother responsible? Was she involved in sex work? Did she get caught up in the occult trying to revive her career? The article doesn't solve the mystery but provides a fascinating look at someone perpetually on the edge of a successful and glamorous world and the unraveling that happens if the music stops and you don’t have a chair. REPS: Scoop Wasserstein at New York Magazine
The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward (Ballantine Books, 2020) When 70-year-old widow Charlotte Perkins wins a free cruise she tries to reunite with her three estranged children by inviting them and their families to join them. Whatever their outward lives — one is an actress, another a venture capitalist, the third a stay-at- home mom — none are happy. The venture capitalist is struggling to stay sober, the actress is broke, the stay-at-home mom wants to out of her marriage. Meanwhile Charlotte dreams of using the cruise to find a new man to live out a romance novel fantasy. This reminded me of a smaller domestic drama version of Succession — the domineering parent and the adult-but-not-grown-up kids — and the gaudy forced fun ridiculousness of the cruise provides a great (and often humorous) counter to the family’s drama. Jetsetters was a Hello Sunshine book club pick a year ago and the option on it (by ABC studios) expired recently. REPS: UTA
Inspirational biopic, sports
The One-Legged Snowboarder Who Built an Ingenious Prosthetic for Himself—and His Opponents by John Rosengren (GQ, March) Very cool story about Mike Schultz, a snowmobiler who lost his leg in a terrible accident, invented a high-tech artificial limb to compensate and became a great snowboarder. He could win gold at the Paralympics, but to do so he'll have to defeat all the other athletes who are using the leg he adopted. REPS: Condé Nast Entertainment (for the story), TFA Productions (for Schultz's life rights)
Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend and happy reading. See you back here next Tuesday and Friday. Please check out The Ankler, which the New York Times calls a “hit Hollywood newsletter” if you love the business of entertainment.
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