The Washington Post

A cinematic chiller


With her 2004 debut, “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” novelist Marisha Pessl became a literary “it” girl both for her intricate plotting and compelling-yet-flawed characters, namely, a controlling father and his precocious high-school-age daughter. Her second book, “Night Film” ($28, Random House), also dips into family relationships, in this case via a dark tale about a reclusive horror movie director, his recently dead daughter and the washed-up reporter following their story. Pessl reads from the book at Politics and Prose on Friday.

Why write a book about making horror movies?
I love scary movies, and I love the idea of someone being a master of the arts. But I also conceived “Night Film” as a family saga in a way, not so much as something about film. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves and how crucial they are to how we organize our lives.

For “Night Film,” I heard you conceived of full plots for the movies your main character, Stanislas Cordova, directs. Why?
I didn’t want to cut corners if I was contending that Cordova was a master filmmaker with terrifying underground films. That’s my favorite part of my job, being that creator.

The book has faux New York Times articles, mock snapshots, and there are even a few fake movie trailers on YouTube. Why?
From the outset, the book has had this voyeuristic, scrapbook-like quality to it. I was interested in doing an epistolary novel, but I thought a novel in letters was out of date. The ephemera tell a powerful story.

We know from the start of the book that one of the main characters, Cordova’s daughter, Ashley, is dead, yet she still seems like its heroine.
I think she is, because even though she isn’t present, she’s mesmerizing. I spent months writing and creating her back story.

You’ve written two books in a row with a father-daughter focus. Is that on purpose?
It’s totally unconscious. It’s all about finding my own bliss and digging into what’s mysterious to me.

This book is so cinematic, and it’s already been optioned for a movie. Any thoughts on what the film version of “Night Film” will be like?
When I finish a novel, I feel there’s nothing else creative I need from it. I don’t feel ownership, so I love the idea of someone making a movie of it. There’s even been some “Night Film” fan art, and it’s been interesting to see what people make out of your characters. We live in a culture of appropriation, and it’s exciting that people can collide with the book that way.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Fri., 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)



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Sadie Dingfelder · October 10, 2013