Marisha Pessl Could Be Heading for a Sophomore Slump

An early review says the young writer's new novel doesn't live up to the hype — and that hype has been as intense as for any recent literary novel.

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Marisha Pessl's debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, was by all accounts a wild success. The New York Times named it one of the top ten books of 2006, and it landed Pessl a movie deal (still in development). Now, Pessl's back seven years later with Night Film, a thriller about a reclusive filmmaker, Stanley Cordova, who may or may not have murdered his daughter. An early review says it doesn't live up to the hype.

Well, the first major review is in — and it doesn't bode well for Pessl. Janet Maslin at The New York Times notes Special Topics' mastery, but pretty much eviscerates Night Film:

There is a haunting suspicion running all through Night Film: that this book was more exciting to write than to read, and that Ms. Pessl reveled too contentedly in the universe she created . . . Ms. Pessl seems to take it as a given that this book, like its absent genius [the filmmaker], warrants fascination. Where’s the evidence? Not on the page.

The review is a tough blow for an author trying to solidify her reputation. And Pessl's faced skepticism in the past. When Penguin bought Special Topics for a substantial sum in 2006, bloggers suggested it was due in part to Pessl's “drool-worthy author photo.” Gawker had a running series about her that debated whether she was "book hot," "TV hot," "Broadway hot," or "college admissions brochure hot." Most critics agreed, however, that the success of Special Topics had nothing to do with the then-27-year-old Barnard grad's appearance. It was a good novel.

Pessl reportedly got $1 million for Night Film (which is being published by Random House), and she's already sold the movie rights. There's a long, generally flattering profile of her in this week's New York, and Elle has one too, complete with fashion-y photos of the now 35-year-old writer. So, Pessl's not lacking for early commercial success — whether the critics derail her remains to be seen.

Photo via Random House.

Night Film is available August 20. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.