Clue - Michael McDowell

Movie novelizations are amongst the lowest genre in terms of literary merit, and yet it's common to see them go for high prices on eBay. This “Clue” novelization by Michael McDowell is particularly pricy, rarely going for anything less than $150. Possibly because the movie remains a cult masterpiece, or maybe because Michael McDowell was a noteworthy horror writer on his own, I understand why fans are constantly seeking it out. I certainly was.

When I at last got my hands on a copy, I decided to not just read it but literally transcribe every word. The archivist in me felt it was important to save a digital copy should it ever disappear completely to the dusty shelves of rare book collectors. This transcription process was one of my most cherished reading experiences. There are few ways to be more intimate with a book than to retype every word. It requires a slower reading and allows the discovery of technique you would normally never notice, such as stylized word repetition, clever usage of punctuation, and white space.

I'm also happy to report that this novelization has literary merit. Content-wise, it never strays from the movie and yet it is still delightful to essentially re-watch the film through McDowell's superb narration. Consider, for example, this delicious description of Yvette:

Yvette was the nec plus ultra of downstairs maids. She was young. She was astonishingly beautiful. She had better curves than a major league pitcher. She was dusting the books in the library with a feather duster that wasn’t half as soft as the waves of her lustrous hair. Yvette was not only a French maid; she was a fetishist’s dream of a French maid, and she had an outfit to match: a glossy black dress, cut high on the thigh and low in the bosom, so tight it whined when she walked. A starched white cap was perched absurdly atop her head, and a starched white apron was slung low across her waist, like a remembrance of chastity. Her stockings were at once black and sheer, and the seam that ran along the back of her calf was a draftman’s ecstasy of curve. Her shoes were high in the heel and tight in the toe, completing a figure that was—all in all—at once startling, grotesque, and divine.

So often as I was reading/transcribing my way through, I would crack up at McDowell's hilarious use of language to depict scenes that I knew by heart. Other times I simply marveled at the quality of his tight, efficient prose.

There is one other big attraction this book has to offer—an extra ending not included in the film. It's an outlandish, preposterous ending and I'm not surprised it was scrapped from the movie, but it's also one of the most fun. Probably not $150+ fun, but if you are obsessed with the movie as much as I am, you might very well consider this money well spent.

Overall, while this book is a line-for-line replica of the iconic film, McDowell's talented way with words adds next-level charm that isn't possible even if you've watched the movie a hundred times. McDowell notices little quirks and clues in the characters that I never picked up on, and he even offers subtle jabs at some of the more absurd moments of the movie. It's a shame this novelization will likely never be re-printed, because it's truly a fabulous read that works on so many levels.