Isherwood and Huxley's screen treatment, Jacob's Hands, which reads as a novella, was published last year in hardback and has been recently released in paperback: After sitting undiscovered in a trunk on the Huxley estate for 50 years, the book was discovered incredibly by actress Sharon Stone, who was researching the author's work for a film based on one of his short stories.
Jacob's Hands is about a ranch hand and WWI vet who discovers, after miraculously saving a dying calf, that he has the power to heal with his hands. In turn, we learn that he also has an astonishing, almost supernatural sense about other people's emotional states. He reluctantly agrees to help Sharon, the young crippled ranch owner's daughter, and after his success, he becomes infatuated with her and follows her to Los Angeles, where she goes seeking stardom.
In California, the naive Jacob is confronted with a greedy and corrupt world when he is discovered by a con man who tries to turn him into a salable commodity.
The narrative employs the conventions of film treatments: the present tense, spare prose, the use of 'we' as in, "We sense the chronic bad feeling between these people." Surprisingly, the devices create a sense of immediacy and simplicity in the story, with strong emotional undercurrents. The allegorical nature of the story, the tone of the magic realism, the simplicity, the milieu of depression-era hucksters and isolated dust bowl ranches bring to mind the world of John Steinbeck. Jacob in his basic goodness and gentleness has a blood brother in Of Mice and Men's Lenny.
Jacob's Hands would have made a great film. It's been 50 years since it was written, and movies have changed since then many would argue for the worse. Nonetheless, Jacob's Hands makes for an interesting footnote to two brilliant, and very different, literary careers.
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