Loyalty, Love and Self-Knowledge (in your twenties) – what Carrie Bell discovers

ImageI love that my mother passes on her novels to me — most of the books she’s read usually becomes one of my favorites, or I find books to read that are similar (which are mainly about fictional stories with real life and death experiences). Ann Packer’s The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is definitely one of those books that will take up a space in my heart, since I could relate with some of the feelings. It made me realize that you eventually have to accept who you are, and sometimes an escape can help discover those findings, as well as realizing who you really owe your love to. Carrie Bell, the 23 year-old fashion junkie from Madison, Wisconsin discovers how and whom she needs to love, as well as her own identity, throughout her journey.

Carrie and her 23 year-old boyfriend Mike Mayer have been together for eight years, but things seem rocky to begin with when the story starts. On Memorial Day, Carrie and Mike meet up with their friends at Clausen’s Reservoir: Rooster, Mike’s best friend; Jamie, Carrie’s best friend; Christine and her boyfriend Bill, along with another friend named Stu. Everyone here is enjoying life post-college, and Carrie still remains working at Wisconsin University’s library.

Carrie, however, is in a mood; she’s distant from the group, especially with Mike. Jamie notices that her best friend isn’t acting like herself, but Carrie claims that she’s fine. To encourage some fun, Rooster and Stu dare Mike to dive. Mike playfully questions his friends whether he should do it or not, and all cheer him on to do so. But little did Mike and Carrie’s friend knew that the water levels were still a bit low for swimming season — Mike dives, and then ends up in Intensive Care with a broken neck and paralyzed from the arms down, in a coma.

Carrie tries to retrace her love that she once had for Mike, but it becomes difficult: she doesn’t cry until about four weeks later, when Mike finally wakes up. At this point, Mike is diagnosed as quadriplegic and forever spends his life in a wheelchair. Carrie finds it difficult to visit Mike in rehab more and more as the weeks go by; her mother, Mrs. Bell, Rooster and Jamie notice that her interest in Mike is suddenly falling, regardless of his condition.

During a dinner with one of Carrie’s co-workers named Viktor, she meets his alluring friend whom is visiting named Kilroy, a native from New York City. Kilroy shows his interest in Carrie, but he had already sensed that she’s involved in a serious relationship. Although Kilroy tries to impress Carrie with his pool skills, it would not be the last night they see each other ever again.

Carrie happens to reconnect with a high school classmate named Simon, who’s also visiting from New York City. Carrie notices something different about Simon, and he tells her he’s openly gay and studying art and theatre at The Big Apple. Carrie suddenly feels comforted by Simon, and opens up to him about her pressuring feelings about Mike; she doesn’t think she’s in love with him anymore, but she can’t manage to take off the engagement ring he gave her.

In order to escape the confusion and guilt, Carrie travels to New York City to live with Simon, without saying goodbye to anyone in Madison. Two days before Carrie’s adventure, she spots Jamie’s teen sister, Lynn, waiting for a man outside a sketchy area of town, whom she met while waitressing at a restaurant she works at. Wearing a short skirt with teased hair and heavy eyeliner, Lynn begs Carrie not to say a word about it to Jamie. Carrie keeps her promise, but later in the story the reader will find out that keeping that promise was never worth it…

Carrie then has the desire to find Kilroy; she finds him at a bar called McClanahan’s that he constantly talked about. The two get to know each other more, and end up having a night of romance back at Kilroy’s apartment. The next morning, Kilroy finally tells Carrie is age: FORTY. But that never scared Carrie away; it only it brought her closer to him and she eventually forgot about her friends and family back in Madison, even though Kilroy keeps many secrets from her. It takes a few discoveries to find the answers to Kilroy’s secrets, and it takes one phone call from a friend, a cry for help, to challenge Carrie on what she intends to do next – who really deserves her love?

My Evaluation: 

I would love to summarize the whole book for you if I could, but that would be unfair since this is a review. In 42 chapters, Packer bulks many themes, scenes and conflicts in an entertaining and descriptive manner. It’s a juicy book, and because there’s so many characters involved, I wondered if a reader of this novel attempted to write fan fictional stories of them, like what their side of the story is while Carrie was gone.

I found this novel to be overwhelmingly peaceful, fucked up, and somber. There were times I wish I could’ve just teleported my fist through the pages to punch Carrie in the face. Carrie isn’t known to be a very likable character because of the grief she causes among friends, families, lovers and herself. She’s selfish and in her twenties and fucking confused. She stopped loving Mike sometime way before the accident, and him becoming paralyzed might’ve been her cue. However, I can’t exactly hate her either; like Rooster and Jamie say to her, “I’m mad at you, but I understand how you feel”.

I think in your twenties it’s incredibly hard to be in love for such a long period of time – you’re discovering who you are and what you want still, and how to love. I only know this because I’m still experiencing it with numerous situations.

It’s a great read — actually, I found it quite comforting because I think anybody could relate to a few of the themes in the novel (although you’ll never admit it).

4/5 Stars

My Edition: 

The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, April 16, 2002

ISBN 0375412824 (hardcover with jacket)

$24 when first published, about $13 on Amazon.com as of 2013.

LIFETIME MOVIE COMPARISON (iTunes and Amazon, $3.99 to buy – rent n/a)

***SPOILERS!*** Read at your own risk (if you haven’t read the book). 

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I guess the old saying is that movies based on books never follow the actual book, and I was pretty hurt to have my eyes open to that by this Lifetime movie.

To start on positive notes, this movie really brought the characters alive. Michelle Trachtenburg (Harriet the Spy) plays an awesome Carrie, and Will Estes (The Dark Night Rises) is a great role for Mike. The acting was well for an hour and a half movie, but the directors REALLY twisted up the plot — I mean, REALLY fucked with it. They try to make Carrie appear to be less extreme with her decisions, and Kilroy as a sweeter guy. They pulled it off well, but because I liked this book so much, I took note of the obvious – I found of these changes either really good or stupid. But then again, how could you fit so many details in an hour from 42 chapters?!:

  • Julie Mayer, Mike’s little sister doesn’t exist. John Junior, Mike’s youngest sibling, only has one or two cameo shots. Miss Wolf only had a single cameo shot as well. Her death and significance were not present in the film.
  • Other missing characters: Lynn, Mixie, Alice, Bill, Harvey, Dave King, Ania, Maura and Jeff.
  • She’s Carrie Beal, not Carrie Bell.
  • Carrie cries after the accident – in the book, she doesn’t cry until Mike wakes from his coma.
  • After Mike’s accident, he rudely asks Nurse Joan to change the channel. In the book, that’s his rehab roommate Jeff’s job.
  • Kilroy tells Carrie that he’s 35 — in the book, he tells her he’s 40.
  • Dillion, Simon’s love interest, is African American. In the book, he’s described as snotty and blonde (nothing is wrong with this, however. After watching the movie, I realized the lack of diversity in Packer’s novel – I like how Dillion’s black instead).
  • Nurse Joan is described tall and blonde as well. In the movie, she’s played by Raquel Duffy.
  • When Kilroy tells Carrie that she’s “barking up the wrong tree”, he lets her walk out. In the book: before she walks out, he asks her to go to dinner with him.
  • Since there’s no Lynn in the movie, Rooster calls Carrie in the beginning of December updating her that Jamie’s mother is in rehab again (this part comes MUCH later in the book). Although he notifies that he’s marrying Joan, he doesn’t state when the wedding will be — he just asks Carrie to come home for Christmas, which she does not.
  • She cancels her flight the day before the holidays after a steamy, sexy night with Kilroy – in the book, Kilroy convinces Carrie to stay to take her to a park in NYC.
  • Instead of giving her a picture he took from France, Kilroy gives Carrie a sketchbook for Christmas as a diary to keep her fashion ideas and collections.
  • Kilroy and Carrie don’t share that mysterious moment on top of the Empire State building (that means Maura never existed, either).
  • Kilroy never receives a letter from his parents, it’s a single phone call instead. During Carrie’s celebration with Kilroy, Simon and Lane of starting fashion school, Kilroy pulls Carrie to the side and tells her he must visit his parents. Carrie convinces him to invite her. IN THE BOOK. . . Kilroy receives a letter from his parents about the mysterious date and Carrie sneaks into his coat pocket to read it (while he’s at work). She still convinces him to take her, but the day before they go, they go on a trip outside of New York for the night.
  • Rooster’s wedding takes place in the spring season. After Carrie’s argument with Kilroy, she leaves to go to the wedding. She never gets a call from Jamie, although Jamie shows that she is angry at her. IN THE BOOK. . . Rooster invited Carrie to the wedding three days before Christmas and she bailed. Carrie only returned to Madison to revive the friendship with Jamie.
  • Jamie forgives Carrie right away. IN THE BOOK, Jamie is much harder and colder – it takes days for Carrie to get Jamie to talk to her again.
  • Stu is still around. IN THE BOOK, Rooster tells Carrie that Stu was embarrassed by Mike because he’s handicapped.
  • Rooster’s wedding takes place at the Mayers’ home. IN THE BOOK. . . lol, this never happened. I think they needed to skip the first two weeks of Carrie’s return and they smashed it into one…whole…event. Haha.
  • Kilroy flies to Madison to win back Carrie. IN THE BOOK, Kilroy keeps in contact with Carrie until she loses interest in calling him. Weeks later, her fancy Bernina sewing machine is mailed to her from Kilroy…that’s when she finally calls him back and discovers more about his life.
  • Kilroy admits to Carrie that his frustration is built upon the death of his brother, Thomas Michael Fraser. He tells Carrie that he died in an accident. OHHH BUT WAIT A MINUTE…IN THE BOOK, Kilroy and Carrie are discussing this over the phone. Kilroy’s brother is just named “Mike” and his cause of death was leukemia (why did they have the need to screw the climax up?)
  • Kilroy begs Carrie to start over and to come back with him to NYC. Carrie peacefully, with a kiss, breaks up with him and tells him she’s staying in Madison. IN THE BOOK, Kilroy tells Carrie how much she’s destroyed him by not returning and ends the relationship over the phone.

My final words: the movie is fun to watch, but the book is better.

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Investigative Reporting Tips from Vanity Fair’s Suzanna Andrews

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My data and narrative journalism professor, Alan Deutschman, introduces some really amazing and inspiring journalists to the university. I mean, these people work for big time papers and magazines.

The guest he brought to us this week grabbed my full attention and is probably my favorite guest he’s brought so far. It was Suzanna Andrews, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, who writes features and investigative articles on business, politics, culture and crime — in her definition, her theme of writing is “abuse of power”.

She’s also written for other numerous publications such as The New York Times, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Reader’s Digest. She was also a story consultant to ABC’s “20/20”. She’s won a couple of Front Page awards for her features on Vanity Fair.

As a class assignment and in order to prepare to ask her questions, we were required to read two of her most impacting articles, Murder Most Yale and Arthur Miller’s Missing Act (I suggest you read both of them — they’re really good).

Both feature stories required so much investigation, stalking, credible information, and main sources. How did she do it all? Andrews shares her helpful investigative tips to the class and especially her experiences while writing these stories.

Murder Most Yale is a feature investigative article by Andrews based on the murder of Yale student, Suzanne Jovin, in 1998. It’s a case that is still under investigation today; they say it’s the “college version” of the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Andrews focuses the timeline of the night of the murder in her story, but mainly focuses on the people that surrounded Jovin’s life to find more information on the case.

Jovin’s story was first published in the New York Times — and Andrews said that this story “needed a lot of play”

Finding Personal Recommendations

As you may have noticed in the article, the police weren’t as involved. Andrews said with most crime stories, there will be slim chances that a reporter will get information from the police. Instead of constant calls and emails to set up interviews, Andrews recommends following them instead.

As a semi-experienced reporter, I find it difficult how to contact the main sources I need to talk to for my stories. Some connections may not always lead you to that significant source, but apparently the ones you’d never think who would have any contact with them might actually do! Andrews said during her investigation to find Jovin’s closest friends to interview them, she gotten from a word-of-mouth that a restaurant owner nearby Yale was pretty popular among the students — they loved him. When Andrews approached him, he was able to connect her with Jovin’s friends.

Andrews said each story has source circles; you have to work your way into the hub. You start interviewing those on the outside of the circle: Aquaintinces –> Close friends –> Parents –> Suzanne.

“It gives me time to think about the story and what to collect,” Andrews said. “When I get to the center of the story, I feel like I know the story as much as they do, or better.”

If you get enough attention, your sources might come to you

Andrews said she had a difficult time getting a hold of Jovin’s parents for an interview. After attempts with a few phone calls with them, she had to end up emailing them the interview instead. During the phone calls, the mother could not stop sobbing and the father refused to talk.

“I was horrified calling the parents,” Andrews said. “It was clear to me that they were grief stricken and angry.”

Andrews said you can’t always fire questions; sometimes its best to play it off as a conversation.

“There’s that element of authenticity, too,” Andrews said. “You want to get people to talk.”

However, Jovin’s younger sister approached Andrews with a phone called and accepted an interview. Somehow, she found Andrews.

Andrews said getting in contact with James Van de Velde was one of the most difficult parts writing the story. Van de Velde was Jovin’s professor and thesis adviser, and is a suspect of her murder. Andrews said she could only get a hold of Van de Velde’s emissaries or friends. One emissary of Van de Velde’s that Andrews got to interview was a woman. Like the rest of Van de Velde’s friends, it was expected that this woman would say nothing but good words about the professor. However, Andrews said the woman had different thoughts about Van de Velde and saw him the night of the killing.

“(The story) consumed my life,” Andrews said. “It’s a psychological rage.”

Andrews said during the time of writing this feature, she played out possible scenarios in her head and timed the driving and distances within the area of where Jovin’s body was found.

Does Andrews think Van de Velde killed Jovin? She said yes, but she doesn’t have an exact reason why she was so drawn to write this story.

“I kind of wondered that myself,” Andrews said. “I felt like I was lead to it. I didn’t feel like I was going to nail the professor, but the story latches on to you.”

Andrews’ Arthur Miller’s Missing Act is based on playwright, Arthur Miller (Death Of A Salesman, The Crucible, A View From the Bridge and ex-husband of Marilyn Monroe) and the abandonment of his son, Daniel Miller, who was diagnosed with down-syndrome as an infant.    Miller cut Daniel out of his life immediately and never mentioned him when he brought up his children in books, interviews and even at his wife’s funeral. For 40 years, Daniel was kept as a secret. When Miller died in 2005, it was known to the public that he did not leave a will, but he actually did, and left Daniel a good portion of his money to last him for the rest of his lifetime.

Andrews said it was almost a possibility that Vanity Fair didn’t run article due to the intense emotion of the story and that it could offend those who have a child of down-syndrome of their own. But everyone knew it was a story that deserved attention.

Rebecca Miller, Daniel’s sister and a daughter of Miller’s, is now a close member of her family. Rebecca didn’t allow Andrews to speak to Daniel. In fact, Rebecca and her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, were disgusted by Andrews’ story. Andrews said she thinks Rebecca was afraid for the safety of her brother.

“This story was fought very hard by Arthur Miller’s family,” Andrews said.

Andrews had the chance to speak to one of Daniel’s caregivers, however. Andrews said she was on the web for days just to find connections between Miller and Daniel. She ended up on a Vietnam Veteran chatroom and spoke to a member who saw Daniel at a party. The member she spoke to in the chat room ended up being the husband of Daniel’s caregiver.

Andrews said when she called up the caregiver for an interview, the caregiver said, “It’s about time.”

After Andrews’ lecture, I feel that I can be more confident in expanding my choices when writing a hard or feature story. So I think I have until tomorrow to meet one-on-one with Andrews in Professor Deutschman’s office until she has to go back to her home in New York City. I would love to see if I have time  to have coffee with her for a more personal talk, but even just a handshake and a short conversation might do well — whatever the outcome is, it’s worth it, right?

Follow Suzanna Andrews on Twitter!: https://twitter.com/AndrewsSuzanna