Reading List as of October 30th

How is it almost November already? Wasn’t it July just a few minutes ago? But with fall fully upon us, it’s perfect weather for curling up with a book.

Marisha Pessl’s Night Film is one of those books where if I’d seen the cover in the bookstore, I would have made a beeline for it. And then after I’d read the inside cover flap, I would have bought it, despite it still only being available in hardcover.

This would be the point where I tell you I’m glad I got this book out of the library.

Scott McGrath is an investigative reporter who lost almost everything – his job, his family, his stellar reputation – when a story he was pursuing on the cult film director Stanislas Cordova went sideways. Years later, when Cordova’s daughter Ashley commits suicide, he’s drawn back to his now-cold investigation, reviewing old notes, turning up new leads, and reconstructing Ashley’s last days, convinced there has to be something hinky behind Ashley’s death.

To say my expectations were high would be a massive understatement. I thought I’d get twisted, cruel, slick, and thought provoking. I got twisted and sometimes cruel, but slick? Not so much. Thought provoking? On occasion, but that occasion was rare.

Words are italicized in the strangest places, adding emphasis where none is needed. In a way, it reminded me of something I’d read before, possibly from the 50’s, where the dialogue has a jumpy, jolted cadence. But here it was distracting as shit, to the point where I wanted to give up several times. It pulled me out of the narrative too many times. Maybe Pessl’s aiming for something I’m not catching, something so far above my paygrade that I don’t have the clearance to view it.

I never felt connected to Scott, or Nora, or Hopper (the two teenagers he teams up with to look into Ashley’s death). Nora was so whispy she’d probably blow away in a stiff breeze; Hopper enigmatic to the point where he felt more like a fill-in for something, or someone, else. The most interesting character in the book is one we hear quite a bit about, yet in the end, we barely know a thing about him. I read a review somewhere comparing Cordova to David Lynch, but the comparison doesn’t quite jibe for me. The way his work is described strikes me as more like the Japanese horror director Takashi Miike. Lynch’s films are weird. Miike’s films are creepy and weird. Audition was very much like a Lynch film, in that there were parts that made sense, and parts that didn’t, and those that didn’t tended to be frighteningly bizarre. Anyway. Cordova is a menacing, thunderous presence, a man who rattles so many chains yet manages to sneak up behind you and scare the pooh out of you. He’s a ghost in these pages. A very disturbing ghost.

It’s possible that if I hadn’t been looking forward to Night Film as much as I was I might have enjoyed it more. Or if my brain wasn’t already fried and served up on a platter – it’s not easily digestible. It’s overly long and takes a detour so far into the unbelievable that I couldn’t stop snorting. By the end, I was seriously questioning my ability to understand what the point of it all was. It bears repeating – so glad I got it out of the library.

Paul Harding’s first book, Tinkers, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2010, but there were enough negative reviews to make me wonder if I was going to regret picking up his second book, Enon. After his daughter, Kate, is killed in an accident, Charlie tries to come to terms with the loss.

Actually, that’s not correct. People grieve differently. Some barely do; others wallow for a while before slowly clawing their way out. Charlie wears his grief like a cloak. In an ever-widening spiral of addiction and madness, his grief somehow gives him a toehold in a sheer cliff, keeping him from flinging himself onto the rocks below. He shuffles through the year in a house that’s falling to pieces around him because he can’t be bothered to keep it up. His neighbors are worried, his wife has left him, and he loses weeks at a time.

There are parts where you think maybe he’s pulled it together, that he’s taken a shower and washed the dishes and no longer looks like a man who belongs in a cardboard box under some freeway overpass. He pulls out stories from his childhood or times when Kate was alive and dust them off, seeming to hold them up as examples of his return to the land of the functioning. Then he’ll stare at his fingers, gnarled and grey, fingernails long and dirty (disgustingly so) and you see he’s not getting any better.

Enon is a village in New England, and in my mind it is always summer, cast in that golden, fuzzy light only seen in the late afternoons of the hottest days of August. Maybe it has to do with Charlie’s devotion to his daughter. Most of the memories he shows us are from warmer times, sunny times, days of bike rides and yard sales and trips to the beach. His love for Kate is a little on the creepy stalkerish side, though, and the way Harding almost always refers to Kate by name (rather than her, or she) is annoying. I wanted to take a red pen and slash through three-quarters of them. Makes me wonder why his editor didn’t do the same.

But overall, Enon was a story that pulls you in, bit by bit, until you’re so fully engaged in Charlie’s descent you don’t have time to steel yourself for the end, because you’re too busy looking at the scenery as it passes by.

Copy of Enon provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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