Man, it must be kind of a strange spot to be in for an author to 1) be really good at writing and storytelling; 2) sit down for breakfast with a famous director; 3) have said director broker a deal where he crafts your unformed book idea into a movie that wins Best Picture, while you get to write the book at the same time; 4) understand (because you’re really good at writing and storytelling) that the movie is actually total crap and didn’t deserve Best Picture, while your awesome book gets sidelined by the stigma that it’s a lame movie adaptation.
Imagine me, reading Kraus’s fantastic book, then finishing it and heading to YouTube immediately to rent the movie. (I should have learned my lesson from Bird Box that this will always result in disappointment.) I can’t wait to see the opening bit in the rainforest! I thought to myself as I punched in my credit card information. In my mind, I was conjuring up gritty, surreal jungle scenes à la Apocalypse Now. Which is a fucking great movie, by the way. I am not a movie hater, I swear!
I don’t care how many awards the Academy threw at The Shape of Water; the movie is garbage from start to finish. The characterizations are the definition of surface level. Characters make bizarre choices, such as making out with a chimp-like creature that just devoured a cat, or giving up crucial information that will kill others when they themselves are about to die, so why not take your secrets to the grave and die a hero?
And while watching all of this horror unfold, I had to wonder, how many of these awful story choices did Kraus have to write into his book because he knew the movie was coming out? How much better could the book have been if he hadn’t been dealing with the movie deal? As things are, I can only give this book four stars, because some of the questionable aspects of the movie are also part of the book.
But it’s still very, very good. Kraus has such a unique voice that makes each scene absolutely transportive. It was so refreshing to read a book by an author with a wiiiiiiiide vocabulary; I had my dictionary app in hand many a time while reading! And the characters that are so surface level in the movie are allowed to unfurl to a full-fledged form in the book. I particularly enjoyed Strickland’s character, detestable as he is.
Perhaps most importantly, what felt like bestiality in the movie was a much more nuanced relationship in the book. I’m in full Beauty and the Beast research mode for my current work-in-progress—that was the whole point of reading the book in the first place—and it delivered in spades.
So basically, I will definitely be picking up more work by Kraus (he has a YA book about aliens coming out next year, which is soooo up my alley right now!), but del Toro and I are officially done.