Although Marisha Pessi, author of the 2007 bestseller Special Topics in Calamity Physics, should be arrested for italics abuse, a crime against literature crazily splattered all over her second novel (and I am so not kidding), she’s spun such a gripping yarn that by the end, nearly 600 pages later, I had somehow forgiven the excessiveness. Night Film is a genre-bending page-turner melodramatically haunted by two absent characters, reclusive cult horror director Cordova and his daughter, Ashley, who jumped, fell, or was pushed down an elevator shaft. Hard-bitten journalist Scott, a classically cynical-yet-vulnerable noir antihero, is obsessed with the director and the mysterious dead girl; joined on his quest for truth by a runaway wannabe actress (kooky, plucky Nora) and a small-time drug dealer with secrets (handsome, inscrutable Hopper), the unlikely trio naturally learn to trust each other as they chase down clues into the heart of darkness. These old-school narrative tropes are somewhat boosted into the 21st century by visuals interspersed throughout the text—everything from mock magazine pages to a scrap of phone book, but mostly web pages—providing a little graphic excitement to the murky prose. In fact, this book seems to demand movie treatment even as it defies capturing the author’s more hallucinatory flights on film. Pessl is nothing if not audaciously imaginative, and while none of her characters ultimately read as plausible, they will no doubt make tremendous cinematic types.


Night Film: A Novel, $28.00, Random House

–Fran Willing

This review appears in the Aug/Sept 2013 issue of BUST Magazine with Janelle Monáe. Subscribe now.


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