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October 11, 2002 - Image 94

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-10-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Entertainment

At The Movies

`White Oleander'

Author Janet Fitch's highly successful
"Oprah Book Club" novel comes to
the silver screen with an all-star cast.

NAOMI PFEFFERMAN
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

1117 hen Janet Fitch met
Michelle Pfeiffer last
year to discuss the film
version of her debut
novel, White Oleander, Fitch felt like
she'd stepped into an episode of The

Twilight Zone.
"It was surreal," the quirky Jewish
author said.
It was just two years since the 46-
year-old writer had been stockpiling
rejection letters at her home in Silver
Lake, Calif. She hadn't even sold her
first short story until she was in her 30s.
When Fitch finished 1999's White
Oleander — about a teen's rocky jour-
ney through foster care — she was
thrilled simply to secure a publisher
(Little, Brown).
Hardly anyone showed up to her early
readings of Oleander, which follows
young Astrid's struggle after her beautiful,
self-absorbed mother, Ingrid (Pfeiffer),
murders her lover and goes to prison.
Then Oprah Winfrey called, anoth-
er surreal moment for Fitch. "She told
me she loved the novel and wanted to
make it the May 1999 selection for
her book club," Fitch said.
. The book shot to the top of the
best-seller lists, Warner Bros. made a
movie offer, and Pfeiffer, Renee
Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn
signed on to star.

During her dinner out with Pfeiffer
in the tony L.A. suburb of Brentwood
last year, Fitch described how her
white-blond, Nordic characters actual-
ly reflect her Jewish concerns.
She had envisioned the story while
attending a 12 step program and search-
ing for spirituality a decade ago. Raised
in what she calls an "overly assimilated"
family in the Koreatown area of L.A.,
Fitch wanted her daughter to have the
solid Jewish identity she lacked.
She began lighting Shabbat candles
and pondering how one of her favorite
books was antithetical to Judaism.
The book, The Pillow Book of Sei
Shonagon, about a lady-in-waiting to
the Heian Empress Teishi in 11th-cen-
tury Japan, described a society that
emphasized aesthetics, not compassion.
"If she came across a person who had
been beheaded, she stepped over the
body," Fitch said. "But if someone wore
mismatched robes, that was heinous. So
I began to wonder, 'What if a person
like that were forced to live in a crum-
my apartment and work a crummy job
at the end of the 20th century?' The
result was the character of Ingrid."

-

Film Adaptation

Of course, the film tones down
Ingrid's viciousness and other elements
of Fitch's disturbing but powerful
novel, the author is quick to concede.
It skips the foster mother who starves

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10/11

2002

94

Mazel Toy!

Michelle Pfeiffer (Ingrid) and Alison Lohman (Astrid) in "White
Oleander" Renee Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn also star.

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