By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
A Distance from Avalon (2021), the debut novella from fellow filmmaker and critic Mike Messier, is a refreshingly subtle and philosophical take on the vampire saga. In a compact and complex ninety-seven pages, Messier weaves the tale of two educators, Joe Humble and a young music instructor by the name of Shadow. Pairing up to enjoy a late October Friday Night, the duo arrives at an ominous mansion entitled Avalon. From herein, the hosts seduce and separate the guests. Immediately afterward, the visitors willingly follow the mysterious figures to separate rooms. At a point near the central mark, the narrative crafts a superb balance of introspection and intrigue. It is one which lasts the remainder of the volume. This is as the leads and their partners for the night gradually unveil secret and sentimental elements of themselves.
What is immediately striking about the tome is that Messier’s screenwriting roots are much intact. For example, the whole book is composed of brief chapters. These sections range mainly from one to two pages. They are so vividly written, yet efficient, that they could easily be scenes in a film. Additionally, every scrap of dialogue reads like a line of poetry: Beautiful, thoughtful, and as economical as the segments in which they are unified.
Messier’s characters, all of whom are terrifically formed and whose monikers greatly enhance the figurative essence of the effort, are equally captivating. They are all distinct, yet intelligent and credible. The individuals who dominate A Distance from Avalon are also enigmatic and insightful. They are well-established components that constantly elucidate the classic, sophisticated atmosphere of the project in spellbinding fashion. Messier uses them to discourse on religion, love, time, mankind, art, and a myriad of related subjects. This is in a way that is intellectually stimulating without appearing unnatural. It is also executed via a method that does not take away from the propulsion of the smoothly paced narrative.
I admired the manner with which Messier frequently avoids the tropes often attributed to such tales of bloodthirsty creatures. What is utilized of these bits is enough to establish a knowledge of the lore of these nocturnal entities. Instead of relying on this heavily, as an easy act of recognition hinging on events the audience has perused in other such exercises, Messier uses this foundation to forge his own path. In turn, this helps build a far more surprising and satisfying story.
In the work, Messier showcases a deft command of tying together all the fine details he has dispersed throughout the enterprise. This is most notable in the finale. In this climactic bit, Messier brings all the cumulative mystery, symbolism, and restraint that he exhibited throughout the endeavor to a compelling and appropriate punctuation point. It is one of the various signs ceaselessly at play of his knack for spinning an exemplary account.
There are also many sly references to the cinema of Messier expertly woven into the volume. The most obvious of these is his phenomenal forty-minute short documentary on the creative process, “Disregard the Vampire” (2017). His brief, and equally good, Fantasy tale, “The Nature of the Flame” (2014), are just as cleverly addressed. These winks at the reader are incredible. This is especially when considering how they organically derive from the attempt. They also operate just as significantly as world-building in the collective universe of Messier’s artistic ventures.
Graced by eye-popping and gorgeous cover art from Nazar Germanov, A Distance from Avalon is an all-around brilliant publication; a literary four-course meal. It is driven by a fantastic plot. Such is one that is given depth and dimension by Messier’s cerebral and refined writing abilities. The piece is intimate, open, ambitious, smartly structured, and perfectly told. Messier has constructed a sensational world of nuance and underlying fear. Masterful in all arenas, the power of this dignified beast is impossible to ignore.
A Distance from Avalon can be purchased in Kindle eBook or paperback format here.