I had run across several, generally-positive references to Marisha Pessl’s second novel online, but it wasn’t until Night Film made the shortlist for this year’s Shirley Jackson Awards that I decided to pick up a copy of it. I’m glad I did; it’s a highly-entertaining book whose narrative gathers momentum as it goes, until it’s roaring along like a mile-long freight train careening downhill, its screaming wheels barely holding on to the rails, throwing off showers of sparks. The plot is relatively straightforward: an investigative reporter is drawn into an exploration of the suicide of the daughter of a famous, reclusive director. Complicating matters is the fact that the reporter already investigated the director once, five years before, essentially ruining his journalistic career in the process. Yet he can’t resist taking a second run at Stanislas Cordova, and the rest of the novel relates his effort to uncover the circumstances surrounding the death of Cordova’s daughter, Ashley. This leads in ever-darker directions. Pessl skillfully manages what her protagonist–and by extension, we, the readers–learn about Cordova, his films, and those associated with them. I was reminded of Stoker’s handling of Dracula, especially, the amount of tension he generates by keeping the Count offstage. Gradually, Stanislas Cordova emerges as a kind of cross between Roman Polanski and David Lynch, with a bit of Aleister Crowley thrown in for good measure. It seems increasingly possible, even probable, that Cordova was involved in some type of black magic, and that it affected his daughter, and that it may be affecting our protagonist. There’s a long, nightmarish scene at Cordova’s upstate New York estate that’s worth the price of admission, alone. Throughout the novel, Pessl incorporates a variety of fictional documents into her narrative–newspaper clippings, webpages–in a way that calls to mind Danielewski’s House of Leaves, bringing us that much closer to her protagonist’s quest.
So: a book that’s definitely worth checking out. Kudos to Marisha Pessl.