I read Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics six years ago and loved it. Her latest, Night Film, was a 600 page thriller with a noir feel–a crime novel that explored some deeper philosophical issues while still being a page-turner. Scott McGrath is the investigative journalist narrator whose career was disgraced when he publicly slandered Stanislaus Cordova, a dark, mysterious director, suggesting that what happened on his sets and behind the scenes was more than acting. When Cordova’s artistic, beautiful daughter dies falling down an abandoned elevator shaft McGrath is pulled back into investigating the family. Black magic, crazed fans, disappearing witnesses, and occurrences that seem to border on the paranormal propel the plot forward.
It was the combination of these parts of the book that Pessl really uses to get not just her narrator thinking, but the reader as well. McGrath and his two unexpected sidekicks of sorts are pulled into a theory about Ashley’s death that feels supernatural. They are left, along with the reader, to weigh the scientific evidence with the seemingly spirtitual.
One of the lines that got me thinking the most in this story revolved around the question one of McGrath’s acquantainces, a professor and Cordova superfan, tells him he has “no respect for murk. For the blackly unexplained, the un-nail-downable.” McGrath wanted to keep following hard evidence, and believed if he kept looking he would find the solid truth. I can’t discuss more without giving away too much of the end of the book, but the concept of respecting the murk has stayed with me.
I often find myself wanting a straight answer for my existential issues: and often the people presenting their ideas believe there is one exact way, which frustrates my brain even more. What I’m learning to understand lately is that not everything can be explained away. The word from the novel, murk, has a negative connotation to it, but it doesn’t have to. There is beauty in the mystery, and sometimes I just have to settle into the unknown and be at peace with it. I’m (slowly) reading Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience, and in it he asks the reader to consider the wonder we are faced with when studying the cosmos. And it is that sense of wonder that I try to stay mentally attached to: to be unafraid to walk into the murk and to do my best to be comfortable there.