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Brainy, Fat And Full Of Ideas: 'Night Film' Is A Good-Natured Thriller

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Brainy, Fat And Full Of Ideas: 'Night Film' Is A Good-Natured Thriller

Book Reviews

Brainy, Fat And Full Of Ideas: 'Night Film' Is A Good-Natured Thriller

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Stanislas Cordova is reclusive. His fans adore him, but the movie director has stopped making public appearances. In his last known interview, he told "Rolling Stone" the human mind is a blackened, overgrown place.

Well, if the name Cordova doesn't ring any bells, that's because he's a fiction, the shadowy figure at the center of a new literary thriller from author Marisha Pessl. The book is called "Night Film," and Meg Wolitzer has our review.

MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: Most novels are pretty low-tech. They don't have buttons or screens, or any kind of visual aids. So that means if you want to know what Anna Karenina looks like, well, you'll just have to read the book. But "Night Film," by Marisha Pessl, seems like it wants to be different. It uses made-up newspaper clips, photos, and articles from places like "Time" and "Rolling Stone."

The narrator is Scott McGrath. He's an investigative reporting looking into a creepy cult filmmaker. Stanislas Cordova makes movies that are supposedly so terrifying that people faint at the underground screenings. Pessl has created the filmmaker's body of work down to the titles. They have names like "Thumb Screw" and "At Night All Birds Are Black." She channels hard-boiled detective movies and pulpy novels, but that makes things complicated for her.

Scott McGrath is a lively narrator, but he's almost like a character from central casting. Same with Ashley Cordova. She's the beautiful daughter of the filmmaker, who's found dead in an elevator shaft at the beginning of the book. Even their names sound phony.

Now, all of this is probably deliberate. Pessl is extremely cerebral and playful and commanding. People aside, she's definitely created a world that is full and complex. It takes you to all kinds of places; like an S&M club, and a violent wilderness program for troubled teenagers.

At first, I was thinking that this was totally dark stuff, but when I finished the book, I realized that even though it dips into the unsavory and the scary, and even though while you read it you think, ooh, this is weird and heavy, there's a surprisingly good-natured quality to all of it that keeps it pretty PG.

This book is like a big fun house. Pessl lets you decide if you want to believe the magic of it all. I probably won't remember all that much of the winding plot a few weeks from now; and the characters are basically vehicles for overarching concepts, more than anything else.

But Marisha Pessl had an extremely cool and intricate idea for a novel and ultimately, it works. I was totally happy to sit in the darkness until the very last page, and I didn't move a muscle until the lights came up.

BLOCK: The book is "Night Film" by Marisha Pessl. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer. Her latest novel is "The Interestings."

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