The college student at the center of the story, Marcus Messner, the son of a Newark butcher, is assigned, in the fall of 1951, to a dorm room at Winesburg, a college in rural Ohio, with three other roommates.
The comparison of the movie to the book is a matter of mere curiosity, except when the movie isn’t much of an experience at all—that’s when the comparison becomes a matter of diagnosis.
Schamus doesn’t just cut out the Beethoven; he cuts the heart out of the novel and delivers only its inert remains to the screen.
The movie, like the book, is suffused with sex—it’s largely the story of Marcus’s relationship with a fellow-student, Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon, whose controlled performance is the movie’s most impressive one), and its key moments include a blow job in a car and a hand job in a hospital bed.
The elements of the novel that Schamus omits are exactly the ones that give Roth’s work its strangeness, its uncanny resonance, its complexity, its scope, its depth.