Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Scarstruck by Violet LeVoit. (King Shot Press)
Violet LeVoit’s first novel, I Miss the World, was a slow burner with an intriguing crescendo into an incredible piece of literature. At a certain point, the book became unputdownable and the climax was too loud to forget. In my review for it, I talked about the stage play experimentation she employed with the monologues and how the style was jarring but effective.
LeVoit’s new novel, Scarstruck (King Shot Press, 2019), is devoid of stylistic flourishes, but that’s not to say it is lacking in any way. The publisher calls it a “queer, erotic romance set in 1950s Hollywood that’s kind of like if a scandal subplot of a James Ellroy novel took on a life of its own.” It’s the plot and the characters that push this book to the bleeding edge by showing us a story not often told.
Movie star Ron Dash is caught at a sex party, but he was able to escape without having his picture taken. The lack of proof isn’t enough to stop rumors from spreading in the paparazzi rags, and the gossip appears to be sticking. Ron’s manager, Rockwell, comes up with a plan to save Ron’s career, and it’s simple: a sham marriage. The woman he is set to marry is Lana, an actress battling her image as a communist party sympathizer. In the course of their marriage, they fall in love, or as much as is possible when one half of the union is gay. He loves her essence to its core but has trouble with the body that houses it.
Writing that out makes me fear that I have oversimplified their relationship and made it sound forced or silly, but the reality is that it’s neither of those. LeVoit has such a way with language and narrative that she’s able to fit a square peg into a round hole and make it look natural. Unfortunately for the characters (and us readers, since we’re pretty quickly attached to them), Ron’s base sexual desires bubble up and get in the way of any potential life they could have shared.
Now, add a love triangle. Flaco is a young elevator assistant who is fired from his job early in the book because he follows Ron back to a hotel room to have some fun. This is where the reader gets an inside look into everything that gets Ron off, as well as provide us with Chekhov’s kinks. Big moments that the book hinges on are first seen here. For the better part of the book, Ron is actively working against his nature; and even when he legitimately falls in love with a woman, he is still unable to find happiness because he’s trying to square himself with a society that is opposed to who he is as a person.
What is great about this book is it is truly about self-acceptance. The complexity of these characters coupled with the fast pace of a noir plot is a combination I never knew I needed.
LeVoit has given us another captivating thought starter, this time packaged as a quick-moving, entertaining genre book, and I fucking love it.
While the story begins with Ron impulsively taking Flaco to bed, I figured the young character had played his part in revealing aspects of Ron that we needed to know, so I was surprised when Flaco reappeared. At first, I was resistant to his reentry, but after thinking on it, I’ve come to a different conclusion. Flaco isn’t a singular desire for Ron, but rather the representation of the life Ron desires. Flaco embodies who Ron is at his core, and what Ron finds himself continually rejecting for fear of the social class he lives within.
While I do think the relationship between the two men is overly sincere, I think what LeVoit is doing with them is more important. Their pull toward one another is what Scarstruck is ultimately exploring.
Ron had the opportunity to live what he deemed a “normal life,” but in the end it would have been “settling,” and therefore denying a very real part of his identity. That’s what makes Scarstruck such a compelling book—we’re simultaneously rooting for Ron to do two mutually exclusive acts.
LeVoit has given us another captivating thought starter, this time packaged as a quick-moving, entertaining genre book, and I fucking love it. Scarstruck isn’t better or worse than I Miss the World, but it sure as shit shows Violet LeVoit’s range and agility. I cannot wait to see what else LeVoit has in store for us.