Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews I Miss the World by Violet LeVoit.
The first time I watched Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the Stephen King book The Mist I was unimpressed with the acting and the special effects. Every actor—even the good ones—seemed stiffened by the antiquated dialogue, and the creatures looked like cheap imitations of claymation done with CGI. Some of the movie’s plot points and themes saved the movie from being a total bust for me, but knowing Darabont’s other work (namely The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), I was surprised by the failure in surface-level quality. A couple years later I read how Darabont’s original concept for The Mist was to release it as a black and white feature. As soon as the movie was presented in its intended black and white I realized the clunky dialogue was written in a calculated manner—it was supposed to sound like it was lifted from monster movies of the ’50s. And the creatures I thought looked like knock-off claymation actually looked like claymation superimposed on each frame. Darabont had made a true creature feature, and while the plot points and themes were still there to elevate the movie, they weren’t there to save it but instead transcended the genre.
I kept thinking about this adaptation while I read Violet LeVoit’s I Miss the World (King Shot Press, 2016). The start of the book opens up on a woman taking photographs of a woman committing suicide by jumping off the top of a building. The photographer then goes to a cemetery where she meets up with her brother. This was a predetermined meeting, and they have come together to discuss a transgression they both planned and carried out; but instead of letting the audience know what they have done, they instead start a conversation delving into their past along with philosophical musing (in a way reminiscent of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey). The further into the book I got the more I was wondering where it was all going. Had I continued to expect the plot to lead somewhere other than the conversation in the cemetery I could see myself losing interest and disregarding the book as a meandering exercise in the experimental. But I started reading it more as a stage play. I don’t know if LeVoit wanted I Miss the World to be framed like this, but by adjusting my expectations I was able to get hooked into the story.
When we read books we’re often conditioned to read quick, information-based dialogue moving the story forward. A monologue is fine in moderation, but a whole book of them is not, or so we’re led to believe. You can get away with multiple monologues in stage plays, so why can’t this device be used in a book? LeVoit, with I Miss the World, proves it can work. While the two characters volley the conversation back and forth for 100-plus pages, we’re getting their history and learning about how their upbringing has defined them and their chosen career paths (set decorator and casting agent). Sure, some of the dialogue toes the line of being too aware of itself, but that’s the point; and mentally framing it in the stage play format makes the book as a whole more interesting.
The book continually hints at the dark deeds that have been done and the depression coursing through both of the character’s lives, but we’re only given whiffs of these motivators while they talk about furnishing an apartment or going to a new-age retreat. While the monologues go against what we’re used to, they are worthy of our attention. And when we crescendo to the end the pace picks up and it turns into a page-turner. The hype does not disappoint. I will not divulge what happens because it deserves to be sprung upon its audience, but it beckons the reader to immediately start reading the book again from the beginning.