Netflix’s “Pieces of Her” doesn’t blindly follow the book. Author Karin Slaughter couldn’t be happier.
Toni Collette, left, and Bella Heathcote in “Pieces of Her.” (Mark Rogers/Netflix/TNS)
Karin Slaughter’s 2018 thriller “Pieces of Her” is nearly impossible to put down, but that doesn’t mean it’s naturally suited for an adaptation. While the novel opens with a compelling scene involving a kind suburban mom dispatching an active shooter with the dexterity of a trained assassin, much of the story takes place in the mind of her daughter, Andy, 31. years old, as she embarks on a road trip to solve the riddle of her mother’s fractured past. As Andy learns, Laura Oliver, the protective speech therapist who raised her, has a lot to hide.
Netflix’s new eight-episode adaptation, starring Toni Colette as Laura and Bella Heathcote as Andy, regularly strays from the source material: the macabre encounter that sets the plot in motion is thankfully less nauseating than the novel; a main character is added; and a villain, safely incarcerated in the book, instead remains at large. But, as Slaughter explained days before the series premiere, the spirit of the novel remains intact. It was a huge relief for the author, whose nervousness about the spectacle could only be alleviated by hours spent on his treadmill. During a phone conversation from her home in Atlanta, Slaughter opened up about her involvement with the new series and why she thinks it’s working so well.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Q: How involved, if any, were you involved in the making of the series?
A: I got involved as much as I wanted because it’s not my area of expertise, but I was happy to learn new things because I’m just curious about everything. I was more involved with being a resource for “Why did this character do that?” Or “What were you thinking when this happened?” Or “What was your motivation?” And I have to read scripts and I have to be on set for a day. It was very cool. It was in downtown Atlanta. It was 100 degrees, and we were outside most of the time, and Bella, one of the beautiful people on the show, was like, “Oh, well, it’s going to be better in Savannah, right? Because it’s humid heat? “And I said, ‘Well, not if your skin is on fire.’
Q: What really struck me about the series was how similar and different it was to the book, different enough that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen even if I had read the novel .
A: Charlotte (Stoudt) is the person I spoke to – and she’s the showrunner and the writer – and I said to her, I know you can’t have Andy sitting in a car for three episodes traveling to across the country and being upset and thinking, even though I can do it in several chapters. We have to shake things up. But it was really important to keep the spirit of the characters and the emotional story between mother and daughter, because that’s the real heart of the book for me. It’s kind of a love story between a mother and her daughter. And it’s about trauma and how it can really be transmitted genetically. Andy has no idea about all these things Laura was doing, but she inherited this trauma in a silent way and in a really noticeable way, like where her life is at the moment she just stalled. So I was happy with how they managed to do that and bring them both together. And I don’t like stories where every thread is tied together. I mean, obviously the big strands are attached, but they left it in a place where I felt like, yeah, I’m just super happy. I like everything, actually.
Q: How was watching the series for the first time?
A: I love being on the treadmill when I’m stressed. And I was so anxious about it, I was on the treadmill for about two hours a day. No kidding. And so I just watched him on the treadmill. I binged it over the course of a few days.
Q: What were you most nervous about?
A: I really want my readers to be happy. I mean, I can’t control the reviews. Let’s be honest, this is a mother and daughter story, and a lot of guys don’t like mother and daughter stories. So I know a lot of male critics might not care. I wasn’t too worried about it. It was mostly that a lot of my readers that I’ve had since the first book, and I feel a real responsibility to them and I want them to like it because I just think it’s my job to be the keeper of these stories and I don’t want to disappoint them.
Q: And it’s not your only book that’s being adapted, is it?
A: Yeah, my Will Trent series is going to be piloted soon, hopefully. It’s a very different experience. Netflix just says, “Yeah, we’ll take it. Go film all the episodes.” But the network says, “We’ll do a pilot and see if we like it.” So it’s a different process. I will say I have friends who have been there and it’s just a war story, but it was really as simple as it could get. And even my agent told me, “Don’t expect this to happen every time.”
Karin Slaughter (Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)