Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Streep narrates "Tom Lake" and revisiting "State of Wonder"

Coming off last week's post where I felt like a bad Meryl fan for not realizing she had narrated two separate audiobooks this year (the first scoring her a Grammy nomination), I wanted to share some thoughts on Ann Patchett's Tom Lake (the second book). 

Of course I had to listen to Meryl's "performance" once I realized the audiobook had been released. As with any other project, I was curious to understand if this was the type of story that could end up having a screen adaptation with Meryl's participation. Ultimately, I don't think the character of Lara would be suitable for Meryl. The character is probably close to fifteen to twenty years younger than Meryl is now, as well as the fact that half the book takes place as a younger version of herself (like, in her 20s). It's a great read (and performance), but I don't see Meryl ever starring in a screen version, if it ever gets optioned. 

What's more interesting to me is that when I listened to an online radio interview Pattchett did to promote Tom Lake, she talked about connecting with Meryl to ask if she'd be willing to read the audio version. I'm paraphrasing, but Patchett explained that it was Meryl's voice she heard when writing the book, and that "it's always her voice I hear."  She went on to add that there was a very brief period around the time that her novel, Bel Canto, came out around twenty years ago that Meryl was in talks to star in a film version. We know that Julianne Moore ended up starring in 2018 (to decent reviews). 

Which brings me back to State of Wonder. I had posted a Wish List entry back in  March 2022, suggesting that this Patchett novel might be a good project for Meryl. The novel had been picked up for a limited series back in 2018, with later news a year later that William Oldroyd (Mary Magdalene, and the soon-to-be-released Eileen, which is getting excellent reviews) had joined as the director. Covid hit a few months later, so it's anyone's guess what happened to this project. It's still listed on IMDb as "optioned," with Oldroyd's name listed as director.  

While it's natural to see that Meryl might be a good fit for the role of Dr. Annick Swenson in State of Wonder, the reason I wanted to revisit it is that after hearing Patchett talk about Meryl's voice always being the one she hears when she writes, and the new info on the previous possibility of Bel Canto, I couldn't help but want to dig a bit more. I came across a question forum online where people can discuss State of Wonder, and someone on there referenced an interview Patchett had done with Goodreads (I can't find it) where she states that she would not sell the screen rights to the book unless it was with someone very specific in mind to direct or to star. While I suppose it's possible that Patchett wanted Oldroyd to do it, I tend to doubt that, as it's not like he's some huge and accomplished director. It's also possible that Patchett just changed her mind six years after the novel came out and didn't mind selling to the highest bidder. Or, it's possible that a certain someone (Meryl) was approached about it or had vaguely shown interest in participating, and it made Patchett willing to sell. I'd like to believe it's the latter scenario. Maybe Covid halted an announcement that was looming. Maybe they're still considering doing it. 

I couldn't help but think about which actress might be good for the lead role of Dr. Marina Singh. After considering a number of actresses of Indian heritage, my mind kept coming back to British actress Indira Varma. I remembered her from Game of Thrones several years back and enjoyed her. At 50, Varma is a tad older than the character of Marina in the book, but they can always make exceptions, and Varma could totally pass for mid-40s if they wanted to keep the age closer to the listed 42 from the book. She's also half Indian and half Swiss (Marina is half Indian and half Norwegian). 

For those interested, the Meryl role of Dr. Swenson is 73 in the book. Meryl turned 74 this summer, so would be the perfect age to do this within the next year or two. I reread the book recently and I found the character to be even more interesting the second time around. At times I was reminded of Miranda Priestly, but there are enough difference in character and the story's setting to likely make this seem very fresh, on top of the fact that Meryl always finds intelligent ways to bring out a characters' unique humanity. There are so few opportunities to showcase women of Meryl's age demographic who are complicated and believable so this would be such a great project. There are a lot of ethical questions around pharmaceutical development, navigating humanitarian work in developing countries without turning native peoples into tourist attractions, family, children, ageing, fertility, and greed. And part of the story takes place in Minnesota! 

The more I think about the possibility of this series, the more I wish it had happened, and wish even more that it still could. With Meryl, of course. Still waiting on news of any future project. 


  1. Do you have a link to the radio interview?