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Posts Tagged ‘Marisha Pessl’

nightfilmSeveral friends just finished participating in a giant international online scavenger hunt that sent them hither and yon around Central Florida taking pictures of assorted vignettes, including a Star Wars storm trooper in a laundromat, a nun on a rope swing and a scuba diver in spin class. My pals said it was fun but also frustrating at times and that they were exhausted.
Which is pretty much the way I felt upon finishing Marisha Pessl’s much-buzzed-about novel Night Film (Random House, digital galley), arriving seven years after her much-lauded Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Billed as a literary thriller, the twisty narrative is sprinkled with realistic documents, newspaper clippings, photographs, transcripts of online sessions and other ephemera related to the life and career of reclusive filmmaker Stanislas Cordova and his piano prodigy daughter Ashley.
The presumed suicide of 24-year-old Ashley in a deserted Manhattan warehouse spurs investigative reporter Scott McGrath on an obsessive quest to find out the truth about the mythic Cordova, who hasn’t been seen in decades and whose terrifying “night films” have a cult following. Two unlikely assistants also play detective: 19-year-old hat check girl Nora, who saw Ashley the night she died, and Hopper, an enigmatic young man whose past wanderings intersected with the dead girl.
Pessl sets these characters loose on a trippy scavenger hunt through the Twin Peaks-like world of a Cordova film: the locked halls of a private mental hospital, a seaside mansion that hosts S&M parties, the hotel suite of a faded movie star/drug addict, a tattoo parlor, a magic shop, an antique store and, eventually, the vast Adirondacks estate that Cordova used in his films. Along the way they meet a professor whose cats are named after Cordova totems, a surprisingly pragmatic psychic, a former priest who lived with the Cordovas, a child clutching a doll-like figurine. Rumors of nasty and possibly Satanic rituals at the Cordova estate swirl like the smoke from the strange incinerators on the property.
The story zips along despite dead ends, red herrings and disappearing witnessess until McGrath and company get lost on the Cordova backlot. Separated from the others, the reporter is chased through dark underground tunnels and begins to lose his grip on reality. He is caught up in one or more of the Cordova films that Pessel has lovingly created as part of the book’s elaborate backstory. She’s a flashy, inventive writer bent on describing the forest and the trees. Keep up, readers!
“What, really, was the difference between something hounding you and something leading you somewhere?”
The book is longer than it needs to be, and some of it is utter rigamarole. I wanted more of Nora, the orphan who grew up in a Florida old-folks home, and less of McGrath’s domestic troubles with his ex-wife. I have a bit of a crush on Hopper. And one day, at least a year from now, I’ll read Night Film again. Or maybe see the movie.

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