The scene at powerHouse Arena
You know what would be an excellent place to screen one of Cordova’s “black tapes”? The powerHouse Arena. Put the audience in with their backs to the windows, maybe, and project it up on that big white wall? Or drop a screen and let everyone sit as they were last night.
Regardless, it’s a decidedly excellent place for a book launch – and so it was yesterday evening for the launch of Marisha Pessl’s gobsmackingly good Night Film. As faithful readers of this blog will know, I procured a copy at the BEA this year and was blown away. My decidedly non-spoiler review brings across only a modicum of just how terrific I think this book to be – I’m already planning to read it again come October, just for the hell of it.
The crowd was one of the largest I’ve seen at powerHouse and it was a mostly young crowd too. Everyone seemed pretty excited to be there, although there were murmurs in the audience of disappointment with the book – or, at least, agreement with Janet Maslin’s shrug of a review in the NYTimes. But for the most part, it was full-bore excitement for the book and for its author, who kicked things off with a reading of the prologue – which, I might add, made me only want to immediately dive back into the reading of the whole book right then and there.
(Also, a side note: if you haven’t seen Don’t Look Now, the 1973 Nicholas Roeg thriller w/ Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie – well, seeing it will give you a new appreciation for the references that lay hidden throughout that opening scene.)
As things turned to the conversation between Mr. Green and Ms. Pessl, I was struck by how comfortable it all was. So often these things feel awkwardly and stilted, perfunctory instead of genuine. But Green’s honest, blushing admission of having burned through the book on a plane trip in lieu of prepping for his impending interview with Dan Radcliffe made it clear that he was a fan – and there’s quite a lot to be a fan of.
The most fascinating thing for me was to see that Ms. Pessl speaks as vividly as she writes. She herself says that she “speaks in italics” (as a way of explaining away the italics of the novel) and it’s true: she’s packing an incredible vocabulary and has such clarity of thought that you find yourself engaged as you would be were it an actress reciting lines. Turns out she considered being an actress for a while, so that explains that.
She divulged a few secrets about the creation of this long-gestating novel – how long it actually took to write, for one, but also some of the paths she went down to get there. A draft of the novel from Hopper’s point of view (which – whoa), several intensive sketches of the characters and of Cordova and his family and his films… there’s a level of background development to the novel that makes you feel as though you’re only scratching the surface of this world. You can sense the background development as you read, even without knowing that it’s there – but once you know, the book becomes an even more impressive achievement.
The night ended, as most of these things do, with a signing – it was relatively swift, but not impersonal. I overheard a group of Penguin staff behind me in line meeting for the first time some of their new co-workers from Random House, all of them celebrating the novel as both fans and publishers. And despite having dropped into several Barnes and Nobles during the day, Ms. Pessl was cheerily conversing with those (including myself, because, duh) who came up for a sharp silver signature.
The night outside showed the last gasps of summer, the heat and humidity present but pleasant, and a look backward at the dimly lit Arena gave the sense of – well, of a scene out of a Cordova film: sovereign, deadly, perfect.