Screenwriter Elisabeth Robinson “Braveheart,” “Last Orders”) is causing big buzz with her first novel, “The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters.” Based in part on her own experiences in Hollywood – and, more important, on the death of her sister – it tells the story of a hotshot producer whose life begins to crumble around her. Robinson discusses the book on “Today;” here’s an excerpt:
(Warning: This excerpt contains language that might be offensive to some people.)
August 25, 1971
August 26, 1971
August 27, 1971
My name is Olivia Hunt. I am your sister. You are inside mom. Jim is our brother. He's OK for a boy.
I had a dream about you. I was in the canoe. My hair was in a braid but it was a snake too. You came out of the lake. You crawled up my snake braid. You got in the canoe. You look like me. The canoe tipped over but we could talk under water.
Me and Jim are up here at Aunt Louise's. It's pretty nice. We go swimming. We pick blueberries. We play in the woods. I get to name you if you're a girl. Dad said Let's call her Martini. Mom said That's terrible. I don't like that name. I like the name Madeline. It's my favorite book. I'll read it to you sometime.
Other fun stuff we can do:
1. Play in the treefort.
2. Play dress up in the attic.
3. Pretend we are princesses. I have a crown. Dad will buy you one. You can't touch mine. Dad buys you whatever you want.
4. Pretend we are brides.
5. Lots of other fun stuff.
I like writing this letter. It's like you're here. Only you're invisible.
I love you already,
August 28, 1998
35,000 feet over Nevada
188 Westborne Park Road
Portland, Oregon 97211
I was sitting at home yesterday (where else?) working on the fourth draft of my suicide note when I got the call. I resented the interruption and nearly didn't answer the phone. I was having a hard time getting the tone right and, as we've discussed, tone is everything in correspondence. This seems especially true when it comes to your very, very, very last words. (But I now wonder: is a suicide note correspondence?) The first draft was too angry, especially toward Michael, whom in fact I do not resent for dumping me. Why would I? He was doing me a favor, putting me out of my misery, which is what living with him was like. No, the raging anger and hate hate hate were misdirected in this draft; they were really meant for my former boss, the president of Universal Pictures, Mr. Josh Miller.
As you may recall from our previous discussions, this guy is a real asshole. You remember — the one whose lip curls up to the right when he speaks in his irregular British accent, which he can't seem to shake since his junior year abroad twenty years ago. Whose pride and joy is not his five-year-old son but his custom-made butter yellow Rolls-Royce. Josh, whose fleshy face resembles a rhino's — beady wide-set eyes blinking between a mother of a snout, or maybe it's the personality that makes one think of a dangerous, stupid beast — and whose tongue I found down my throat at the company Christmas party? (I know, I should have sued him as you advised, but I was afraid of being blacklisted.) It was Josh Miller — of the Hollywood Miller dynasty — who after three years as my boss still looked at me with a face that said: Who let her in? Who stuck me on that Babe rip-off Lloyd the Hamster and then fired me the day it tanked, as I repeatedly warned him it would. Clearly, Josh was the true villain in my life story and deserved all the hate in my soon-to-expire heart, not dear Michael. But I couldn't give that windbag the satisfaction of knowing he drove me to suicide, could I? After further analysis, I realized that of course there were other people I deeply deeply hated too. So, yesterday afternoon, as the super pounded the eviction notice into my hollow apartment door, I committed to another draft. Now, I love my mother. We all love our mothers, don't we? Dad, too, okay; somehow. But let's be honest here. You and I both know they destroyed any chances I had in this world. Don't say "therapy" to me, Tina; you know Dr. Schteinlegger did his very best for two years before throwing up his professional hands. I know these dear people from whose clueless loins I sprang have everything to do with why I'm a complete failure, but that sounded so common. Who doesn't blame their parents? That draft was full of clichés and self-pity, and if it's one thing I'm not, it's self-pitying. Finally, the stewardess brings me my goddamn Bloody Mary. She actually said, Drink it slow because this is your last one. I've had three, big deal. Have I been unruly? I asked nicely. Her cat-ass lips puckered as she lurched away. (The indignity of coach. What better proof of my fall from grace? And now the smell of baking chocolate chip cookies wafts down from first class to torment me, to remind me of all I've lost....)
You may be wondering why I had decided to end my life. I got ahead of myself with the suicide note problem. Well, it's all about majesty, Tina.
My career was in the toilet. Hollywood graciously let me, some nobody shiksa from Shawnee Falls, Ohio, into the magic kingdom, and I blew it. Three years at Universal and the only movie I made was a hamster picture that grossed less than we spent on catering. Then I'm on the street, without a hit or enough friends to dine out on. A script of Don Quixote I'd optioned with my last ten grand had just been passed on by every studio in town. I had no love, thanks to Michael's mysterious departure, and what were the chances of my meeting someone truly wonderful and marrying him and conceiving a child before my last egg dropped? About the same odds of my father winning the Ohio Mega Millions Lotto. So, no family to live for. No career. No cash. No hope.
What's more, I'm not the blonde I used to be. Highlights weren't cutting it; I needed about three processes every eight weeks or I'd be found out, and, perhaps the final straw (pardon the pun), a new stubborn pubicky hair had sprouted over the right corner of my mouth, a truly horrendous harbinger of a mustache soon to follow. A mustache! Things were bleak before that phone call and I don't think that's an exaggeration. I don't think you can say I was being negative here. (A mustache!) Jimmy Stewart had a helluva lot more to live for when he tried to off himself in It's a Wonderful Life. What's incredible is that given how utterly pathetic most people's lives are, more people don't do it.
I'd kill for a cigarette. When you're strapped into a twenty-ton tin can miles above the earth, surrounded by stinking humanity, and you're flying to the scene of the crime, aka your childhood home, you simply need a cigarette. Here's another good reason to die. You can't smoke anywhere anymore. The Reign of Virtue is winning, Tina. You watch. You're going to wake up one day and find they've taken all the fun out of living.
I know what you're thinking. Sure. Eventually I might have gotten another midlevel, unsatisfying job, and a midlevel, unsatisfying marriage to go with it; with the help of science, maybe even some midlevel, unsatisfying kids, too, who, when I was a retired and unfulfilled midlevel film executive, would hate me for being neither famous nor a good parent-sure, all this could be mine, but the question is, where was the majesty? Some people feel it when they make a stock market killing, get a promotion, or see their kid make a touchdown, some when they win an Oscar, run a marathon, and if you're one of those lucky bastards, you might even feel the majesty one morning when you see the sun rise, or a butterfly land on a sunflower, blah, blah, blah. Knowing myself as well as I do, I knew majesty would not be found in the life that was yawning before me, and that's when it hit me like one of those embroidered pillows: if you can't live a majestic life, die a majestic death.
Ideally this would be in the line of nonprofit duty in Africa or India. Gunned down by guerrillas while spooning rice into a starving but gorgeous brown child's mouth. Or something more (seemingly) spontaneous and heroic: after I pulled Steven Spielberg's drowning child or perhaps a chihuahua out of the flooded Los Angeles River, my body would be swept to sea. That'd be majestic.
Or I could rid the world of some scum —t ake out some white supremacists, a corrupt cop or pedophile — before turning the handgun on myself. I'd like to do something noble, but I was feeling too desperate to organize that kind of opportunity. Just killing myself would be simpler and quicker, and I enjoyed imagining all my friends and enemies reading about my death and feeling real sorry for what they'd done or not done as the case may be. The only thing stopping me was the note, which is why I was still alive when the phone rang yesterday and changed my plans.
Olivia? It's your father. He always identifies himself, even after all these years as my father. He was hammered. I nearly hung up on him.
Oh,god ...honey...It's your sister. He was weeping, too.
What? What happened?
All your life you try to imagine what bad news sounds like, but when you actually hear bad news, it simply makes no sense; it's like being told the definition of a black hole by a physicist, directions by a local, the evidence of God by a priest. First you say,
Then, after it's repeated to you —
— you say:
Excerpted from ““The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters,” by Elisabeth Robinson. Copyright © 2004 by Elisabeth Robinson. Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Warner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.