Buzzed Books #3 by Alise Hamilton
The Art of Balance: Marisha Pessl’s New Literary Thriller
Many of books make the claim of being at once a thriller and literary, but Marisha Pessl truly delivers on both fronts. Night Film is substantial, character driven, and full of delicious turns of phrase. It is also enormously suspenseful, often scary, and always engaging.
Scott McGrath is a journalist disgraced with a slander charge after his investigation of the reclusive horror movie director, Stanley Cordova. When Cordova’s young daughter is reported dead after an apparent suicide, McGrath resumes his investigation. What follows is a page-turning, smart psychological thriller, as a reporter and his unlikely companions, peels back the layers to reveal the secrets of an artistic, dark, and mysterious family. Did I mention there is a 65-page race through a haunted house?
Cordova’s movies are billed to be the most frightening in existence, and while describing a scary movie could prove to be a serious stumbling block, Pessl pulls it off, balancing what to show, and what to leave to the reader’s imagination, perfectly. I was reminded somewhat of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves—both books use non-traditional text layouts, and both deal with found horror film(s)—but where House of Leaves is experimental, Night Film is more accessible, and faster paced.
Much will be made, I’m sure, of Pessl’s use of multi-media: web screen shots, interview transcripts, medical records, and photographs. These images, or non-traditional texts, are not at all distracting; rather, they pull the reader deeper into this first-person narrative. Like McGrath, I found myself poring over these documents, looking for clues. In fact, the story was so engaging, so believable, that I was tempted to Google characters after I finished, to continue the hunt, not quite ready to give up the characters, or the world Pessl has skillfully crafted.
If you are looking for a page-turning thriller with literary substance, do not miss Night Film.
Pair with: Macallan Cask Strength Scotch
Alise Hamilton earned her MFA from Lesley University and holds a BFA in creative writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College. Her short fiction appeared in the Francesca Lia Block-edited anthology Love Magick.