This post will be more about the novel Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz than about comparing the film and the book, but I’m going to mention both because they’re both worth mentioning.
I call this one a tie because I think this book and movie pairing is everything a movie adaptation should be. The film is clearly not trying to recreate the book, which it shouldn’t because the book is 449 pages and rich with description. The plot is similar, but the movie has its own tone, emphasis, and, frankly, life. I think you would be a perfectly happy person if you picked one or the other and would never feel like you are missing anything. That is painfully rare for book to movie adaptations.
I found the movie first while flipping through channels one day. I saw Tina Fey and Paul Rudd and immediately clicked on Admission from the menu without even reading the description. I love these two actors. This worked out beautifully because I loved the movie; I even bought the blu-ray. It was funny, heartfelt, and emotional. It made me think about college admissions as a whole. It made me think about the pressure that people are under that we don’t normally think about. It’s good stuff, and I will watch it again.
The book is all of that multiplied. Comedy takes a back seat in the novel, and emotions, pressure, the college system, and depression are at the forefront. The prose captures the feelings of the characters, mostly Portia, but John’s calm and Jeremiah’s fast-paced thinking blend into it as well. I’m not entirely sure how Korelitz pulled this off; I think it’s just a gift she has. If I had to replicate it, I know I couldn’t. Her descriptions also capture emotional detachment and distress perfectly; you forget time, like Portia does. It’s amazing prose. I mean: “Susannah stepped up close to her and, with sufficient warning, leaned forward to embrace. Portia embraced in return, in her usual way: body moving forward, spirit pulling back.” I read that over and over because it was so striking.
“Her life, it occured to her, was a careful refuge from life.”
The novel contains the best descriptions of job strain that I have ever heard. It punches you right in the gut with the truth about what we all hide from other people when it comes to our jobs. Because I saw the movie first, I knew important plot points going in, but that didn’t stop me from seeing how clever the foreshadowing was (maybe it helped. Maybe I would only have seen that on a second reading if I hadn’t watched the movie). The foreshadowing is subtle and engaging, and it makes you truly curious and desirous to keep reading, which is, after all, the point.
I agreed with every review quote on the book cover, and I don’t know if that’s ever happened to me. A quote from Entertainment Weekly calls it “both juicy and literary.” Yes. Yes. Yes. This novel would be great for a book club or a classroom. It would even be a good read for non-readers and people who didn’t go to college because they can see the immense amount of pressure that teenagers who do have college in mind are under. There’s a wealth of information in this book, and I think something that will reach out and touch everyone is in that information. There are saucy bits. There are thinky bits. There are heartachey bits. There are heartsoary bits.
Subtly is key in this novel. Portia is a working woman with a mess of a personal life who doesn’t have to tell you she’s a working woman with a mess of a personal life. I know you thought of at least one (or five) books that do that as soon as you read that sentence. The novel is very real without rubbing your nose in it. It’s also subtle with its literary parts. Quite a few classic novels ran through my head as I read it, and some were directly referenced without making you think the author is screaming, “HEY! I READ STUFF. MY WRITING IS VALID!” For example, we go back in time to Portia’s first love, and I couldn’t help but thinking that this guy was Daisy Buchanan to Portia’s Jay Gatsby because of lines like “a careless person who had taken care of her.” Then a couple of pages later I read, “Still, she beat on. Tom was her green light.” Sneaky, sneaky, Korelitz. Would I have noticed the allusion if the description before it weren’t drawing me in that direction? Maybe but maybe not.
It’s just a great freaking book.