Grease by Ron de Christoforo
Pocket Books, 1978
Price I paid: It’s complicated, but less than a buck
GREASE IS FOR LOVERS
It’s the story of Sandy and Zuko, dance contests, graduation, drive-ins, and wishing the summer would never end; of fighting and thinking they mean it when all they really care about is making up.
GREASE IS FOR SWINGERS!
It’s the story of The Thunderbirds and The Pink Ladies, Greased Lightnin’, gang rumbles, Thunder Road, Rydell High, and the Class of ’59.
GREASE IS FOREVER!
Most of all, it’s the story of how great it can be to go with someone who’s crazy about you. Even if it’s a while before everyone knows it…even before you’re sure about it yourself.
I didn’t plan on doing a review this week, since I normally wouldn’t, but surprise! What on Earth would make me do such a thing? I dunno, call it a combination of a good mood and excitement over some of the dumbest garbage I’ve found in a good while.
This isn’t my first novelization rodeo, but it is a first in a couple of ways. For one, unlike Spaceballs and Gremlins 2, I actively dislike this movie. This was not always the case. I even went to the theater to see it when it got a re-release sometime in the late nineties, or maybe the early 2000s? I forget, exactly. I would assume it got the release in ’98 for the 20th anniversary. I used to like the movie, and then I became more aware of its many problems, and so now I don’t like it, but I’ll admit that the soundtrack is still damned catchy.
That brings us to the other thing: How do you novelize a musical? I asked myself this very question when I saw the book, like it was sitting there waiting for me to find it and wonder aloud.
I’ll give you the quick answer, now that I know: You don’t.
I’m only operating at about a quarter snark right now. The truth is, the novelization almost completely ignores the musical aspects of the film. I say almost because, well…
Sandy strode over to him and hooked her arm around his waist and pinched his ass.
“Baby, you’re the one that I want!” Danny said.pg 216
And then he says “I got chills!” but says nothing about how they’re multiplyin’, or that he’s losin’ control.
Other times there are more lyrics of the songs woven clunkily into the dialog. It’s wild. It’s like people sometimes just talk in rhymes.
I have no idea who this author is. When I search for him, all I find are references to this book and a few other novelizations of movies I don’t think I’ve even heard of. Whoever he is, he made some bizarre decisions in writing this book.
For one, it’s barely a novelization of the movie. I would estimate that about thirty percent of the novel lines up with scenes from the movie. The rest is just…made up? Some kind of earlier draft? Maybe some is from the stage musical?
And the scenes that do line up are extremely brief!
The best example of this is the very end of the book. See, in the movie, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) has completely transformed herself into some kind of greaser chick to impress her boyfriend, Danny Zuko (John Travolta). Danny is surprised and there’s a big song number, “You’re the One That I Want.” After that there’s “We Go Together” to close out the movie. It’s probably a solid eight or ten minutes of denouement and finale.
In the book, the ending is thus: Sandy shows up looking completely different, Zuko is surprised and says so. Cut to Rizzo (Stockard Channing) and Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) resolving the pregnancy scare storyline in a single line of dialogue. And then there’s a page of basically “and that was the end of the fifties” and the book ends.
The pacing, my friends. It is incredible. This book is 220 pages long. The Big Car Race is a page. The climax and finale are maybe three pages. Yet there are fifty pages at the beginning of the book talking about how Sonny (Michael Tucci) and Danny go to work for Sonny’s aunt at a beach over the summer, which is where Danny meets Sandy and Sonny meets Marsha, who is not in the movie at all.
Yeah, it sets it all up, but in the movie, this entire setup is encompassed in one song. And as much as I hate to admit it, that song does a good job of setting up both of the characters and the entire back story. Unfortunately it’s also the song with the rapey “Did she put up a fight?” line.
On the other hand it does nothing to make any of the characters any more likable. Scenes not from the movie include a two-page sequence of annoying a tired waitress and a page or so of stealing car parts so that the Greased Lightnin’ can be repaired. How am I supposed to root for these people in the big race on Thunder Road (which is covered in seven paragraphs of “first one car got in front, then the other, then the first one again, and finally we won”) knowing that some poor schmo is going to try and take his car to work in the morning, only to find his transmissiorator is missing and now he can’t get the car to start? And this is the third time he’s had to call in, so he’ll probably get fired? His children will starve because the social safety net in the ’50s was even worse than today, and this whole damn story is just a huge tragedy because some damned teenagers wanted to race a car.
Another big oddity is the fact that this book is narrated in first person by Sonny, a character I barely remember from the movie. I suppose this can help to explain why the book lines up so little with the movie, but I don’t think we need that explanation! Why not just tell the story?
For the few times that Sonny couldn’t possibly be around, the book has to hamfistedly work it in that he hears about it from somebody else. I guess that’s why he’s given a girlfriend in the book who wasn’t even in the movie at all. She can be places like the sleepover scene when he can’t, and then she can tell him all about it. All in italics, for some reason.
This book uses some of the worst eye dialect I’ve seen, and I have no idea what dialect it’s supposed to represent. I’ve seen the movie. It’s not that one. There are several uses of “Whaddah” as in “Whaddah you want?” Now I know it’s subjective, but that one doesn’t sit right with me.
The most egregious offender is “ehey.” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to sound like. It’s used as an interjection starting dialog. A lot. By most characters. As in something like “Ehey, Zuko, whaddah you dooin?”
On page 113 our author uses that word three times.
One of the things I think of when I think Grease is that it’s an idealized and sanitized vision of the late ’50s. It’s relatively clean-cut. The movie makes a few innuendos, and does acknowledge teenage sexuality, especially in the Rizzo/Kenickie pregnancy scare arc, but it’s hardly explicit.
The book does not abide by that same logic. Yeah, it’s still a sanitized version of 1959. The only acknowledgement of non-white people is when someone mentioned a Ray Charles song. It also gets the title of the song wrong, calling it “What I Say.” There’s no mention of any problems in Southeast Asia, or of the Cold War at all.
But it’s still a cruder, more explicitly sexual world in the book. All of the women, even teachers, are analyzed through a lens of sexual attractiveness. Breasts and asses are often grabbed or stroked or played with—often without consent. It’s really gross. But you wanna hear the grossest one?
Marty and Danny were hanging on each other, like they had been for years—Danny running his hand round her ass, Marty combing through the hair on Danny’s chest with her fingers. They were like brother and sister.pgs 41/42
LIKE BROTHER AND SISTER
WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT
Why would anybody write that? Why would an editor leave it? Who thought that was a good idea?
I’m so confused and disgusted.
The male characters are quite fond of making homophobic comments and slurs. The women are perhaps a little better about that, but not by much. Nobody is to be rooted for in this book, but it’s for different reasons than the movie. This is perhaps not surprising considering how little the two seem to have to do with one another.
I don’t understand where so much of this book even came from. Yes, the movie doesn’t have a lot of plot itself, and when it’s largely carried via song, that can make for a short book if you leave those songs out. Any how wouldn’t you? Just reproduce them in italics like this is some kind of horny teenager version of The Lord of the Rings?
Actually I kind of like that idea.
So at what point, I ask, did the author realize that he was going to have to create most of this story whole cloth? It is a mystery.
In a way, some of those choices are understandable. Giving us a new female character so that she could report in on the Pink Ladies scenes makes sense. It’s not the best idea because making the story first-person in the first place doesn’t make any sense, but once it was rolling, it was a reasonable workaround. I have no doubt that our author was working on a short deadline. Did he have time to revise, rewrite, storyboard? Hell no. Probably. He dashed this out, got his check, and paid the gas bill. For this much, I blame him not at all.
But so many other choices are baffling, and for those I do offer some blame. The “brother and sister” line. A lot of the other sexual content. It never turned into outright penetration, but there was more petting in this book than my cats would tolerate.
Most of you haven’t met my cat Bijou, but the two of you who have will know I just made a powerful statement.
There’s a whole chapter near the middle that completely interrupts the mood and story, where we learn that the airplane carrying Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Richie Valens just crashed. Our characters just sort of…stop and think about mortality for a second? In a better-written story that might have been a good moment, well placed and appropriate. Instead it was just an interruption, informing nothing and never commented on again.
So yeah, there’s a lot wrong with this novelization of a movie I don’t like in the first place. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that the book is so much worse, but I didn’t expect it to be this different. It’s like a whole different story, one with even less-likable characters and more uses of the word “shit.”
I don’t know for whom this book was written. I would have expected it to be the same kind of people who, in 1978, were nostalgic for 1959. This is roughly my Nana’s generation, and I cannot imagine her reading this book. To be fair, I didn’t know my Nana in 1978.
My mom is a fan of Grease, but I also cannot imagine her liking this book.
This is another case where the writing is simplistic and nearly childish, but is, more than any of the other novelizations I’ve read except Star Trek: The Motion Picture, explicitly sexual. It also has a fair share of cusses, which even Star Trek didn’t have. So it is not a book for children. Is it for teens? YA lit can be pretty explicit and unflinching, I think, but I don’t read a lot of of it so I’m not at all the best judge. I remember reading The Outsiders in 8th grade, and while I remember it being pretty gritty, I don’t remember asses being rubbed.
And what teens in ’78 are clamoring to read about their parents’ high school days?
Maybe reading more YA will be my book resolution for 2020. What little experience I have has shown me that those authors have got serious guts to write about what they do.
The Grease novelization did not have guts. It was just irritating and childishly sexual, which when talking about teenagers does have a certain realism to it, but I don’t want to read about that kind of crap. I’m in my thirties, so reading about horny teens is creepy and probably ought to be subject to a fine or something. The only thing worse would be writing about them.
Have a wonderful New Year!