The thing I love about book-into-movie adaptations is that, without them, I never would have read this book. I remember seeing all the pretty people in the trailer for this movie in 1999, and thinking, “Maybe I should read the book first.” And I’m grateful I did, because the movie is forgettable, but the book….oh, the book.
I reread it about once a year. Once, I went through and read it with pencil in hand and made a bunch of comments in the margins simply exclaiming over the lyrical prose or depths of complexity in this passage or that. And I never write in my books, even when I’m reading something for class (that’s what post-its are for). It’s the first book I recommend to anyone who asks, and it’s the last book I’ll ever lend out to anyone again after my original copy was never returned (even though you can buy them for a dollar on clearance at Half Priced Books, but that’s not the point!).
Five years later, when I was 19 and on my first co-op in a new city surrounded by new people and new experiences, I decided to get a tattoo. This tattoo would not only mark this particularly exciting time in my life but also hold great and potent meaning for all of time. I decided on an oleander, orange flames licking up from its center. Because goddamn that book has just burrowed into one of my heart valves and pitched camp. I really don’t know what it is; yes Fitch’s prose is beautiful, her characters are strong and flawed and ugly and gorgeously dispossessed, but that’s not just it either. Maybe it’s because, at 14, when I was swimming in a sea of Stephen King and Dean Koontz-infested literary waters, and my school was having us read such classic, award-winning tales as Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, and maybe feeling a little dispossessed myself, I grabbed a hold of this emotionally raw, character-rich life-raft and just
White Oleander didn’t inspire me to want to be a writer. Heck, I’d already written one staggeringly insightful, Goosebumps-esque novel entitled My Bro is a Psycho, but the reaction it incited in me sparked my aspirations to someday, maybe, if I’m lucky and good enough, write something that will incite the same sort of reaction in someone else.
This is really a thank-you letter to Janet Fitch. But, then again, I thank her with every word I lay down on the page. Or, at least, I hope I do.
Dayna Ingram is a writer and student living in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Antioch College in 2008, and is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. She works at Half Price Books, where she buys more books than she can reasonably hope to read in a lifetime.