I don't read many novels. Not anymore.
Since I became a working screenwriter, I take less pleasure in novels. I have a hard time enjoying them at face value. I always find myself stepping out of the action as I consider whether the book would make a good movie. Fortunately, I didn't have that problem with "The girl at the end of the road" by Kathryn Hitchins. I found the book riveting from the start, and it kept me hooked despite the fact that I thought it would make a great movie.
I actually read the book prior to its publication. I found it on the now defunct website Authonomy. Authonomy was a writer community set up by the publisher Harper Collins. Writers were invited to post their manuscripts to be read and critiqued by fellow writers. The most highly-rated manuscripts would then be considered by the editors at Harper Collins. I joined Authonomy because I was hoping to have a very early draft of my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" considered by the publisher. Therefore, I had to get some ratings. The best way to get them was to read and critique books by other writers.
I thought it would be a tedious process. Both fortunately and unfortunately, most of the books I read were very good. I say fortunately because it made it easier to read them. I say unfortunately because it showed the extremely high level of competition in the book world. "The girl at the end of the road" was easily the best novel I read on the website.
The book tells the story of a high-flying, young financier named Vincent who seems to have it all: money, a great apartment in the city, and a high-class girlfriend. Unfortunately, Vincent loses his job in the economic collapse and, much to his humiliation, he must return to his parents' small town home to regroup. While using the internet at the library, he becomes reacquainted with Sarah, the eccentric assistant librarian. She was his first crush in school, and, although she remembers him, she treats him with utter indifference. This is a blow to Vincent's ego, since he views himself as more successful (at least temporarily) than any of the people who stayed in town. And because, once upon a time, he felt there was a real bond between them.
Vincent works hard to impress her, but his efforts always back fire. Her constant rejection of him makes her all the more desirable. Eventually, he finds a hook into her life. She needs to learn how to drive and he offers to teach her. They slowly begin to bond against again as Vincent tries to unravel the mystery of Sarah Penny. So does the reader.
(Spoilers. You've been warned.)
Sarah Penny is a wonderful creation. Fresh. Unique. Intriguing. A truly vivid character that, like Vincent, I found myself quickly falling in love with. I found her so fascinating that I questioned why the author didn't tell the story from her point of view, but I believe she made the right choice by letting the reader uncover her secrets along with Vincent. What is her secret? Autism.
Fascinating. The problem with romances is that there are so few obstacles between people in our carefree world today. This was a great one. Once Vincent begins to understand Sarah's autism, he realizes she will never fit into the life he envisioned for himself. His shallow, materialistic friends in the city would never accept her, nor would she accept them. Vincent would have to leave his world and enter hers if he decided to love her. It is a decision that will change his world.
It is a great story, but, more importantly, it is also an illuminating depiction of autism. Kathryn gives us a compassionate but honest portrait of an autistic person. I later learned after talking with the author that she has an autistic daughter. I was not surprised. Such a detailed portrait needed a real subject.
I loved the book. And, since I am a screenwriter and a producer, I wanted to make a movie. I contacted Kathryn and asked her if she was interested. She was. I wrote up a treatment in conjunction with her. I changed the location from England to America and simplified the plot a bit. My first thought was the UPtv network. I had previously done the feature-length series pilot "Brother White" with them and I thought this story suited them very well. Since PureFlix had ongoing relationship with the network, I called David A.R. White, and, despite my exceedingly strained relationship with the company, asked if he was interested in pitching the story. He was. Off it went.to the network. A few weeks later, in what would prove to be my last phone call with David, I asked what the network thought of the treatment. David said he hadn't heard back from them yet. He added that since PureFlix was concentrating on theatrical features now, they weren't interested in making any more films with UPtv anyway -- although they subsequently made Gabe Sabloff's "Dancer and The Dame" with the network.
I approached another producer, Pamela J. Bertsch, with even better connections with UPtv. She sent in the treatment and we got a response in about two days. They declined because they had just done a movie with some superficial plot similarities which didn't touch on the autism angle. Now it was time to go elsewhere. I thought it would be great for Hallmark, but I couldn't approach them with just an unpublished book unless I had a completed screenplay. Sadly, I was too weighed under by assignment work to write the script, and Kathryn was too busy trying to get it published. Fortunately, she succeeded and I couldn't be happier for her.
Now it might be time to reconsider writing the script....
And maybe it shouldn't be a cable movie after all. Top flight actresses will definitely want to play Sarah....
PS. I am not reviewing the book because of this little blurb on the back cover. (But it doesn't hurt.)
After reading "The girl at the end of the road," be sure to check out my book ,"The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," available on Kindle and in paperback from TouchPoint Press. (I recommend the paperback.)