Robert Levy is a writer of stories, screenplays and plays whose work has been seen Off-Broadway. A Harvard graduate subsequently trained as a forensic psychologist, he lives in his native Brooklyn near a toxic canal and can also be found at TheRobertLevy.com. The Glittering World is his first novel.
by Robert Levy
Writers are influenced by every book they read, even those that disappoint or outright repel. What greater inspiration for an author is there, after all, than encountering a critically acclaimed bestseller and thinking, “Are you kidding me? I can write better than this!”
In my case, that can’t be said for any of the following. These are a few of the books that either directly inspired my novel, or were of otherwise critical importance during the research process. The ghosts of a former commune, a mysterious race of subsurface beings, and a Hansel and Gretel tale come to life: The Glittering World is the story of four friends on vacation in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and the amazing and terrible things that happen to them there. Here are some of its finest progenitors.
1.) Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand. I’ve been fascinated with communes and the like since high school, when I first read about The Farm, the utopian hippie community in Tennessee. Being a thriller, Generation Loss is, of course, about what happens after the glitter fades. On a less bleak note, there’s also Hand’s equally superb “Last Summer at Mars Hill” from her collection of the same name; it’s the story of a spiritualist community visited by beneficent magical beings called the Light Children. That’s one I might have flat-out ripped off (I said might!).
2.) Occultation and The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron. No one does creeping dread and dark, underground machinations of amoral, otherworldly creatures like Barron. I found myself returning often to his deeply unnerving stories for inspiration (not to mention much-needed distraction) while writing my novel. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
3.) No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. Though perhaps known better for his short stories (collected stateside in the single-volume Island), the bard of Cape Breton also wrote this profound novel about the proud and damaged MacDonald family, as well as the legacy of their immigrant ancestors. It’s a book that perfectly captures the rich traditions and great hardships of life on that most breathtaking island.
4.) Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles. The chief supernatural element in my novel is—spoiler alert!—an insectile race of unknowable beings referred to by locals as “the Other Kind.” What better place to learn about all manner of buggy behavior than in anthropologist Raffles’ poppy study of our tiniest and most fruitful neighbors? By investigating what makes these creepy-crawlies themselves, Insectopedia becomes, in turn, an analysis of what makes humankind tick as well.
5.) Surfacing by Margaret Atwood. One of my all-time favorite novels, this story of a passionate, alienated woman at a crossroads in her life had a profound influence on The Glittering World, particularly on Part Three, which is told through the perspective of the passionate, alienated Elisa. A must-read, especially for the seductive, bittersweet and razor-sharp voice of its nameless narrator.
6.) The Fairies in Tradition and Literature by Katharine Briggs. Aside from their insectile nature, another essential component of “The Other Kind” is—spoiler alert #2!—their resemblance to what is often referenced as “fairies” or “little people” or “the good neighbors,” a shadow race of beings that exist alongside humans in many if not most cultures across the globe. In Mi’kmaq mythology—that of the native people of Cape Breton and beyond—these beings are sometimes referred to as “the stone dwarves.” Throughout my novel, I utilize many traditional aspects of fairy lore, from the fae lover to the changeling myth to the Wild Hunt, all of which can be found in Briggs’ 1967 folklore classic.
7.) The Keep by Jennifer Egan. This one snuck up on me. I’ve been an Egan fan since Look at Me, and I read this novel when it first came out. It was only while revising a late draft of The Glittering World that I happened to reread The Keep and noticed some surprising similarities between her protagonist Danny and my own Blue Whitley, both wayward clubland outcasts searching blindly for bliss and meaning in two very different foreign lands.
8.)Cape Breton Book of the Night and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. One is an anthology of chilling and moving ghost stories and legends collected by the publisher of Cape Breton’s Magazine, the other an endlessly rich compendium of twisted tales from the Brothers Grimm. Darkness and light, innocence and corruption, terror and hope: If you were to mash together two books that would give you the underlying vibe of The Glittering World, it would probably be this pair.