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August 2013
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October 2013

Book brief: Night Film

Night.filmMarisha Pessl's sophomore novel, Night Film,  is a hot ticket; I had to keep it hostage from the library to finish it, and my $1.50 in fines for the nearly three extra weeks was more than worth the book's wild ride. I loved being the first one to check it out, in its first week of publication, and indeed there was a hold on it when I turned it in today (complete with the review from NYTimes Book Review I'd clipped one Sunday while I had the book). At first, I feared that the tale might be too creepy; horror is not my genre, but I can enjoy a mystery. Night Film proved to be a psychological thriller, and I read it in big gulps, sailing through a dozen tiny chapters at a sitting. (There are more than a hundred chapters in its 624 pages.) Its innovation is the use of reproduced (fictional, but with permissions) web pages, magazine clippings, and records, which I found effective in pulling me in and giving a feel of primary-source material. Apparently, there is also a digital component, but I decided not to go down that rabbit hole in the wake of my recent iOS7 update. One may be able to access the "real" Cordovite Blackboards, but I don't want to. While I recall really enjoying Pessl's first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006), I don't remember it all that well. My sense is that book was more "literary" in both style and content; I wasn't dazzled by the writing in Night Film, nor was I put off by it in any way. Mostly the story compelled me forward, maybe because I'm a film fan, or because I love New York, or because Scott's dogged pursuit of the truth captured me. Pessl has crafted another amazingly inventive tale.

Superlatives: Character I'd most like to hang with: Nora. Character I'd most like to hear more from: Inez Gallo. Most honest character: Nora. Most caricatured character: Marlowe Hughes. Most throwaway character: none. 

From the publisher's page

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.
For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.
Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.
The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Movie minute: The Spectacular Now

220px-The_Spectacular_Now_filmThis is a sweet, thoughtful film ~ with an awesome Tumblr that I just discovered, featuring images from ALL the coming-of-age films ever. I did not know that The Spectacular Now was based on a National Book Award finalist (by Tim Tharp, published in 2008; must've been nominated in a YA category), but I see that it was written in first person, and the movie begins with voiceover as protagonist Sutter Keely tries to write a college application essay. What I did know going in was that it was a critically lauded coming-of-age picture, and I am still up for such a tale, even in middle age (God, I hate that term!). Sutter is a charmer, but he's also pretty much an alcoholic, and that was pretty disturbing. I couldn't help but watch this as a parent, and cringe every time he pulled out his ever-present flask, especially while behind the wheel. I feared for his influence on the lovely Aimee, played by fabulous Shailene Woodley from The Descendants. (And, whoa, she's also in the 2005 Felicity American Girl movie, which I haven't actually seen, but my girls have ...) Still, Sutter made me laugh, and he made me cry. The actor portraying Sutter, Miles Teller, is someone I've not seen before, although he was in Rabbit Hole and is also forthcoming in Divergent (as is Woodley.) Meanwhile, an actor of whom I am fond, due to Friday Night Lights, showed another side as Sutter's father, sporting weird false teeth and serious stubble as he smoked and drank and stuck the kids with his tab. Coach Taylor he's not, this Kyle Chandler. The Spectacular Now made me want to go back and watch some of those other films, and now I can use that Tumblr to remember what they are. First up: Dazed and Confused, the one that is ~ I hate to admit ~ closest to my own high school experience! 

Unexpected bequest

Shortly before we left on vacation in August, I received a surprising piece of mail – a letter that included a check from the estate of a dear family friend who had died earlier this year. Her niece and executor had included a photocopied picture and these words from her will:

In addition, I would like the following persons to receive a modest bequest, which I would like for them to use to buy something frivolous such as a superb dinner in gratitude for their never wavering friendships. A small token but it comes with genuine affection.

Barbara was one of my late mother's oldest and closest friends; I'm honored that she considered me friend as well. When I was a girl, her life in NYC, and later in DC, seemed glamorous, maybe because she was not a mother, which was the dominant paradigm surrounding me. Also, she brought great gifts whenever she visited! I still remember how devastated I was to lose an enamel-band ring the very day I received it, having insisted on wearing it despite its looseness on my finger. Although officially she was my brother's godmother, I too called her mine once my namesake aunts were gone.  

When I moved to Richmond, Barbara was just a hop up the road, and I made plenty of trips to spend a night, see an exhibition, or eat something fabulous she prepared. She made us a trio when Mom and I walked the Lake District in the '90s; I never see a Beatrix Potter item without thinking BP sighting, as we each remarked repeatedly on that adventure. Charles and I were in Georgetown with Barbara when Princess Diana was killed; I think it was our first visit to the Holocaust Museum. She brought the Marcella Hazan to the Tuscan farmhouse Mimose that my parents rented in 1999, becoming the chef to my translator and Brotherman's chauffeur. And she came here as well, the last time on a trip from Greensboro, where she'd retired, with my mom. That was the weekend I'd decided to tell my mother of my plans to adopt a child – news I shared first with the confidante who could help sway Mom's response in a positive direction. 

The check arrived about the same time the remarkable artists Robin Kranitzky and Kim Overstreet had posted their latest creations on Facebook, the Peepin' Pickles. I could think of no better way to splurge in Barbara's honor: a unique piece of art that referenced her culinary gifts and sense of humor.


ConverseIn Boston at the end of vacation, I found one more fun thing that reminds me of Barbara: Marimekko Converse All-Stars! I bet she was the first person I ever saw who'd stretched that Finnish fabric and hung it as decoration in the 1970s. She may have even purchased her print in Helsinki. While I made a total impulse purchase there on Newbury Street (only to find the Chucks offered cheaper on, I was happy to finish (Ha!) the bequest, especially with Brotherman, another recipient, there with me. I wonder what he's done with his? 

Oh, Barb, your lines will stay with me always: that punchline, "T'weren't me, teacher – it skeert me, too!" and "You can fool me on grammar, but you can't fool me on translation ~"