In a near-future world on the brink of collapse, a young woman born into servitude must seize her own freedom in The World Gives Way, a glittering debut with a brilliant twist. We spoke with author Marissa Levien about the inspiration for The World Gives Way, working as an indie bookseller, and more!
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
The World Gives Way is a fusion of a few different ideas that I’d had knocking around my head for years. For one, it’s an apocalypse story—I’ve had this picture in my head for a long time, of a character who knows for certain that the world is ending and has to live with that knowledge. What would that feel like, psychologically? What would you choose to do with your remaining time?
I’d also been toying with the idea of a world that was mostly like our own but designed. I remember having this dream a few years ago, of two people who travelled up to the stars, and when they got there, they discovered that the night sky was a sheet of metal with lights rigged up. And they sat there, on the huge metal sheet, surrounded by fake starlight, and looked down at the world below. That dream really stuck with me, and it formed into this idea of how you could have this artificial world, and there could be this different sort of beauty within that.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
For an apocalypse book, I think a lot of people have been surprised by how warm and intimate it is. It’ll keep you engaged (which, in my opinion, is especially important for an audiobook), but at its core it’s a very character-based, human story.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? What struck you about the narration?
I haven’t listened to the complete audiobook—I think I’m a little too close to the material to do that—but I was curious enough to listen to a few chapters in a few different places. I was interested to see how my words felt in this format.
Christine Lakin did the narration for The World Gives Way, and she does an incredible job. Her voice manages to be both warm and wry at the same time. Once upon a time I worked as an actor and singer, trained in voice and speech, etc; I know exactly the work that goes into a good voice performance, how specific and subtle you have to be. She knocked it out of the park.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
I love listening to audiobooks! I work at a bookstore that’s about an hour away from home, so I love listening to audiobooks on my commutes. When it comes to audiobooks, I tend to favor books with a lot of escapism and plot; I leave the more prose-forward or experimental stuff for when I can see the words on the page. I really loved Dan Stevens’ narration of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. A few of the short stories in Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg are narrated by one of my favorite all-time broadway actors, Raúl Esparza, and he reads them with perfect comic timing. I also recently finished V. E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, narrated by Julia Whelan, which was absolutely addictive.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
I work at an independent bookstore, so local businesses mean everything to me! I work at Southampton Books on Long Island, and I used to work at the dearly departed BookCourt in Brooklyn. It’s a very personal job—you really get to know the people who come in, you get regulars, almost like a bartender. I’ve gained friendships as a bookseller—professional and personal—that are with me to this day.
I love companies like Libro.fm and Bookshop for what they do for folks that might not be near enough to a bookstore but would still like to support small businesses. (steps up on soapbox) What makes a town or neighborhood desirable is the sense of community you feel, the soul of a place. Independent businesses are incredibly important in that regard, especially culture-based businesses like bookstores. From that perspective, I actually look at the support of local businesses as a long-term economic strategy. In short, property values go up in towns that have a bookstore.
“What makes a town or neighborhood desirable is the sense of community you feel, the soul of a place. Independent businesses are incredibly important in that regard, especially culture-based businesses like bookstores.”
Anything else to share with us?
Go buy The World Gives Way, and I promise to beam happy thoughts your way.
Header photo by Robert Mannis