"I can think of a hundred exceptions," I said. "What the hell does word count have to do with quality? Shouldn't the story dictate the word count?"
Phillip Lewis, The Barrowfields
|Colin Firth and Jude Law in Genius.|
At a key moment in the film, Perkins, played by Colin Firth, says about book editors, "Are we making books better, or just making them different?" That's another good question, one that editors of all kinds should sometimes ask themselves. Are they really making the work better? It is the writers, not the editors, who get their names printed on book covers and in bylines on magazine and newspaper articles. How much input by editors is too much? And, for that matter, how much is too little?
No doubt there are Thomas Wolfe fans who, like the man himself, wish his mountains of prose had been left intact so they could savor every word. Others of us may wish thousands more words had been cut out.
For most of this movie, I assumed Thomas Wolfe was the title character. He is even referred to as a genius at one point. By the end, however, I realized the film was really about Maxwell Perkins. He was the genius, or at least as much a genius as Wolfe. And it wasn't just Wolfe that Perkins helped turn into a literary giant. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald also feature prominently in the movie. Perkins was also influential on the careers of such writers as Erskine Caldwell, Alan Paton, James Jones, J.P. Marquand, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Ring Lardner. That's a lot of literary influence by someone who was not himself a writer.