By Marisha Pessl
Available now from Random House
Marisha Pessl's debut novel SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS was hugely successful. I first came across it as a college sophomore, when my roommate received a copy from her dad. She'd read me the best passages aloud, and we were both captivated by Pessl's writing.
I was quite eager to read Pessl's sophomore novel as a fan of her style and of cult films. Now, the cult films in NIGHT FILM are somewhat unbelievable. They're like Polanski and Hitchcock and The Navidson Record all in one, and the later films are banned abroad and have no US distribution. (And, apparently, no torrents.) It's tough to buy in to Stanislas Cordova's amazing skills as a director, but NIGHT FILM is so much fun once you do.
Scott McGrath is a disgraced journalist due to his past attempt to uncover the skeletons in Cordova's closet. But when Cordova's daughter Ashley commits suicide, the story grabs McGrath again. He can't resist poking around, uncovering Ashley's last days and what led her to take such drastic action. Along the way he falls in with Nora, a young woman who was the last to see Ashley alive, and Hopper, a drug dealer who received a mysterious package from Ashley.
NIGHT FILM is stylish and well constructed. Web pages and transcript notes are spaced throughout, giving a nice grounding to Pessl's world. The middle sags a touch, but it pays off when everything starts coming together in increasingly convoluted ways. The complexity is so much fun, particularly in how it mirrors the structure of Cordova's films. I particularly liked the ending, which was pretty terrifying reading alone at night. I decamped to a restaurant, both because I needed to eat and for the brightly lit companionship. (When I left, I was so frazzled by McGrath's adventures it took me the length of the parking lot to realize that the reason everything was so dark and creepy was that my lights weren't on.)
I also have to give NIGHT FILM props for this: it has perhaps the best resolution I've read regarding a young companion developing a crush on her mentor. I also liked that Ashley Cordova was a large part of the novel. At the same time, she only kinda sorta resolves into a person by the end. She's still basically an idealized, larger-than-life figure.
I thoroughly enjoyed NIGHT FILM. It's an engrossing, creepy mystery with a strong literary bent. The middle goes on a touch too long, but the whole book passes by so quickly that I can't complain too much.