Novels that tend to make the biggest impressions are those that colonize new ground, where the author bends the form of the novel in a new way, or tells the story of some undiscovered subject. Marisha Pessl does both in her brilliant new novel Night Film (out Tuesday). Because of her technique, mastery of pacing and beautiful language acrobatics, “Night Film” is more than simply a book — it’s an experience.
Film director Stanislas Cordova has made a career out of creating horrifying, disturbing films that show true range of the human experience. But he’s made a reputation for himself by not appearing in public for more than 30 years, prompting rabid speculation about the life lived inside his 300-acre compound. When his beautiful, former prodigy daughter dies at 24 from suicide in New York City, disgraced reporter Scott McGrath decides to investigate. But he’s tangled with the Cordova family before — and lost. This time he won’t stop until he finds out the truth, even if it means losing everything.
Joined by two completely unqualified, though entertaining assistants, McGrath begins to piece together Cordova’s daughter’s final days. Pessl provides photographs, notes and screen captures of McGrath’s research, including information from a hidden website accessed only by the most dedicated (deranged?) Cordova fans, making readers an invested, accountable party in the investigation.
Using a thriller framework as her model, Pessl has created a novel that is not only a page-turner, but one that brings readers to a new level of investment. Cordova and his family become shockingly real, and stay with readers long after the novel comes to a close.
Part thriller, part literary masterwork, “Night Film” is a psychological rush, pushing McGrath, and readers, to the edge. And when faced with that horror, will he — will we — be saved, or savaged?
Laura Farmer is writing studio director at Cornell College. Find an archive of her reviews at laurafarmerreviews.com.