Sunday, January 19, 2014

Giersbach on Night Film by Marisha Pessl

An Artist Needs Darkness

Marisha Pessl's Night Film, Random House, 2013.

By Walter Giersbach 

“Special Projects in Calamity Physics” marked 27-year-old Marisha Pessl’s debut in 2006, garnering a front-page New York Times Book Review.  Pessl writes with a unique “voice” as she follows motherless teenager Blue van Meer into school and introduces a cast of idiosyncratic characters.  A teacher is murdered, Dad is not who he appears to be, and the teenaged Bluebloods are uniquely quirky.  Is Blue discovering life or is she being led by forces she doesn’t recognize?  A tough-but-rewarding read.”

My review above was published November 2012 by the Asbury Park Press.  I was overjoyed to see that Pessl has followed her debut work with “Night Film,” another novel in which things aren’t what they seem.  This captivating almost-thriller follows a newsman’s search for Cordova, the underground film maker who hasn’t been seen in years.  Cordova had won a libel suit against the narrator, but in the interest of news the writer begins investigating the death of Cordova’s 24-year-old daughter Ashley.  Was she an apparent suicide by falling down the elevator shaft of an abandoned building in New York’s Chinatown— or was she pushed?  Careful steps through a Funhouse Arcade of deception, mystery, supernatural manifestations and coincidences take the narrator into the lives of a cult figure.

Interspersed with the narrative are graphic pages from Web sites, police reports, news clippings and ephemera that tell the tale alongside the narrative arc of the plot.  Like David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” this is less a straight-forward story and more the unfolding of characters, motives and existential questions.

Key to peeling away layers of plot deception is Cordova’s former wife, who explains,

“Darkness.  I know it’s hard to fathom today, but a true artist needs darkness in order to create.  It gives him power.  His invisibility.  The less the world knows about him, her whereabouts, his origins and secret methods, the more strength he has.  The more inanities about him the world eats, the smaller and drier his art until it shrinks and shrivels into a Lucky Charms marshmallow to be consumed in a little bowl with milk for breakfast.”

We need more Cordovas…and more Pessls.  She’s marvelous as a stylist.  The now 35-year-old writer describes, for example, a young hat check employee at the Four Seasons:

According to the police report, she’d been working here only a few weeks.  She was about 5’7” and scrawny as a question mark, with pale blond hair in a French twist — curls around her face channeling alfalfa.  She wore a brown skirt and brown blouse too big for her — the restaurant uniform visible shoulder pads sitting unevenly over her frame….

“Good evening, sir,” she said brightly, removing her glasses, revealing big blue eyes and delicate features that would have made her an “it girl” about four hundred years ago….  She was wearing harsh pink lipstick, which didn’t look like it’d been applied in good light or within two feet of a mirror.”

Don’t let this emerging literary giant — Pessl, not the hat check girl — pass you by!

For more on Marisha Pessl
Find more reviews by Walter Giersbach in this blog or even more at his own blog:‎

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