There is a reason I will always pick up the new book by Laura Kasischke on the day of release - I know I'm in for a treat of a story. Of course, that...moreThere is a reason I will always pick up the new book by Laura Kasischke on the day of release - I know I'm in for a treat of a story. Of course, that story always takes place in a world that resembles ours, but always just enough to the left or right of normal to make it questionable whether it really is ours or not. My first experience reading Laura Kasischke was her novel, The Life Before Her Eyes, and I've been hooked since.
Mind of Winter opens Christmas morning, and Holly has just awoken from a nightmare and fragments of a thought that something had followed her and her husband back from Russia all those years ago when they had adopted their daughter, Tatiana. Even after her husband leaves to get his parents from the airport and Holly is rushing to prepare Christmas dinner for the in-laws, the thought never quite leaves the back of her mind. As the day progresses and a blizzard moves in that makes travel impossible, Holly is stuck at her house, alone, with her now teenaged daughter Tatiana, whose rebellious nature is more evident today than ever, even bordering on erratic. As Holly tries to piece together the puzzle of her fragments of memory and dream, she is also trying to reconcile what is happening to her daughter right before her eyes, and what it all means.
The book seemed a little slow at first, and in places I'd found myself hoping that the pace would pick up soon, but as I read on, I understood that the book needed to be paced that way. Holly's morning was spilling out as uneventful but hard to deal with, and we were feeling that right along with her. As her world begins to spin ever so slowly out of her control, the pace quickens, so that we're feeling pulled right along with her. Kasischke clearly knows her art and uses it to its maximum potential here.
I used to constantly try to figure out where Kasischke's books are going, but I've learned over the years to just let the story carry you with it, and all will be revealed. Kasischke is a master of language and using language to convey a simultaneous feeling of normalcy and dread in her writing, again giving the feeling that everything in her books could possible be happening in the real world, right now, outside our window. It always ends up being so much more than that, however, as she's also unnerving us as readers at the same time, so that we are feeling a growing sense of unease right along with her characters. We know, just like her characters, that something isn't quite right, but we can't put our finger on where that unease is coming from any better than her characters can. Mind of Winter is Kasischke at her mind bending best, right up to the last page.
I can't recommend this book enough. I read it in one sitting, finishing at 2am, which helped give the book an even better flair as Holly begins to feel more and more cut off from the outside world, and the world outside my window was becoming more and more cut off with the passing hours of the morning. Finishing, I wanted to go back and reread portions, so see where hints could have been dropped throughout the book to what was ultimately happening in Holly's world, but I felt I needed to let it sit, giving me time to ponder the story and its mysteries. Kasischke cements again the need for me to pick up her next book on release day, as she has hit another home run with Mind of Winter.(less)
Marisha Pessl's sophomore novel, Night Film, is a hard creature to categorize. Part occult thriller, part mystery, part WTFery, part paranormal chille...moreMarisha Pessl's sophomore novel, Night Film, is a hard creature to categorize. Part occult thriller, part mystery, part WTFery, part paranormal chiller, part crazy, drug-induced reading material, I had no idea half the time where the story was going. I kept thinking, "Oh, this must be It! The Thing. The Thing causing all the crazy in these people's lives!" But no, I was wrong, every time.
The book opens with the apparent suicide of Ashley Cordova, daughter of legendary film director Stanislas Cordova, whose films are so gut wrenching and insanity inducing that they have been more or less banned from theaters and only available as bootlegged editions or played in catacombs around the world in the middle of the night (hence, the name, Night Film. Disgraced journalist Scott McGrath (who became a disgraced journalist due to his earlier work trying to uncover the secrets around Cordova) decides to investigate Ashley's death, to see if there is more to it than a simple suicide. What follows is this rabbit hole of a twisty, turny nightmare for Scott and Hopper and Nora, two people Scott reluctantly take on as "assistants" and who may or may not have something more to do with Ashley than they initially let on.
The story starts off relatively normal (for lack of a better word), but with each discovery made about Ashley's life, the stranger the turns in the story become. Most of it seems highly implausible, but the nature of the book makes even the most implausible turns in the story seem plausible in this book's particular world. Once the characters start down the rabbit hole of piecing together the last couple of days of Ashley's life, the reader needs to stop trying to make sense of what is happening in the story. Just go with it. It inevitably works in the end, even though there are sections of the book that made me feel that I may have been going a bit crazy myself. This is the thing with Pessl; I don't know that I can honestly say that she's a great writer. She's a good writer, just not great. What she is great at, though, is telling a story. Crafting it, honing it, making you feel a little like you're going down your own rabbit hole while reading the story, and when you finally come out the other end, you're left honestly wondering what just happened. It's been several days since I finished Night Film, and I can honestly say I don't really know what to make of the book. There are bits referenced towards the end of the book that I don't actually remember reading, but I'm sure are there. There are bits of the story that I had to read two or three times to make sure I could understand what exactly was happening, and I'm still not entirely sure I know what was going on. Most of what I'm talking about doesn't occur until the last 1/4 of the book, but once you read it, you'll know what I'm talking about. So, Pessl isn't a great writer, but she's able to carry off a damned good story over the course of a 600 page book with her own style and sense of ease.
Dear lord, somebody needs to tell that woman that intelligent readers are able to figure out when emphasis or sarcasm are being implied in writing, and she doesn't need to italicize Every. Single. Instance. Every. Single. Time. No joke. Pessl wields italics like a child with a new toy; as if she just discovered the italicize function on her computer, so therefore must use it everywhere. There are at least 6-10 italicized words/phrases per page. PER PAGE! When you take into account this book clocks in around 600 pages, that is a staggeringly overused amount of italics. It's not always used for inner dialogue. If there was quite a bit of inner dialogue, that would be one thing, but sometimes it's just random words in a paragraph. Maybe she does it on purpose, and I'm sorry to keep going on about this, but damn, it is seriously distracting. I would find myself ripped out of the story, just to count the number of instances per page. Less is more, Marisha Pessl. Less is more.
OK. I got that out of the way. (Seriously. The italics bugged me. A lot.)
Now, I also need to talk about a very, very cool aspect of this book. Pessl is clearly very aware of the digital age we live in, so uses some very clever techniques in the book to create a sort of multimedia presentation in print form. Included within the pages of the story are text messages, web pages, court documents, phone transcripts, photos, magazine articles, etc., all of which help to tell the story and carry it along. These techniques also help to blur the line between fiction and reality, giving the book a slightly otherworldly feel, almost as if we may actually be reading the true account of the real-life journalist Scott McGrath and his real-life investigation into the larger-than-life, mysterious presence that is Stanislas Cordova.
And just take a moment to appreciate that cover up there. I LOVE the cover on this book. Whoever put the entire package of this book together did a bang up job.
So, I guess I can recommend the book, but with some reservation. I don't think it's going to be for everyone, but no book ever is, right? All I know is that Marisha Pessl impressed me enough that I picked up her first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and am looking forward to starting that. If you like something a little out of the ordinary, something that is a little unique, you'd be hard-pressed to find something better than Night Film.(less)