I don’t generally read or watch “scary” things. I avoid scary movies (much to the chagrin of the boyfriend, who loves them), and don’t normally pick up thrillers or horror stories. That’s why it’s particularly strange I read two books in the last few months that I’d consider scary — although I’m not sure how many other people would think that!
The Preservationist by Justin Kramon
To Sam Blount, meeting Julia is the best thing that has ever happened to him. Working at the local college and unsuccessful in his previous relationships, he’d been feeling troubled about his approaching fortieth birthday, “a great beast of a birthday,” as he sees it, but being with Julia makes him feel young and hopeful. Julia Stilwell, a freshman trying to come to terms with a recent tragedy that has stripped her of her greatest talent, is flattered by Sam’s attention. But their relationship is tested by a shy young man with a secret, Marcus Broley, who is also infatuated with Julia.
The Preservationist is Justin Kramon’s second book, and a pretty big departure from his first novel, Finny, a lovely coming of age story. I’m always interested in authors who write across genres, so when Kramon e-mailed to ask if I’d like a copy of The Preservationist I was excited to accept. Like Finny, The Preservationist‘s main character is a young woman, Julia, trying to find her place in the world when a relationship changes her plans.
Although I don’t read many thrillers, The Preservationist felt pretty typical of that genre. Julia is an appealing narrator, and the two men in her life become more and less suspicious as the plot rolls forward. Even though I knew from the beginning that something was amiss, I was still surprised by the twists the story took and the way the conflict resolved. I’m not sure if this book made me a fan of thrillers, but it was certainly a fun read!
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
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.
I think Night Film was one of the most anticipated reads of 2013. Author Marisha Pessl hadn’t published a book since her lauded debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, in 2006, and the buzz about the format of this one was pretty high. Even though I don’t love scary things, my appreciation for Pessl as an author also convinced me to read this one.
Three thoughts: First, Night Film is a truly gorgeous book — lovely paper, crisp images, careful formatting. This is a book worth reading in print rather than electronically. Second, Night Film kept me up way, way past my bedtime because I was so damn creeped out. The intricate backstory of Cordova and his followers, the extensive use of documents (letters, reports, news stories) and extra features through an interactive app really make the world feel full and set an atmosphere. Third, the characters and plot of this story are so great. It was hard for me to put down, no matter how nervous it was making me. I highly recommend this one.
Disclosure: I received a copy of The Preservationist from the publisher for review consideration. I bought my copy of Night Film.