Marisha Pessl's new novel, "Night Film," may offer the most interactive reading experience of 2013. When it was published in August, the book arrived with its own iPhone app, called the "Night Film" Decoder, and a series of videos that includes short documentaries about and "found footage" from the work of Stanislas Cordova, the reclusive, underground filmmaker with whom the novel's protagonist is obsessed. The pages of the book itself are riddled with screenshots, and the narrative involves "a secret URL on Tor, the anonymous Internet — so it never appeared on Google and couldn't be spotted by standard browsers."
A reader would be forgiven for concluding that the author is herself a nonstandard browser, a literary technophile who, when she's not writing bestsellers such as "Night Film" and its acclaimed predecessor, 2006's "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," spends her waking hours wandering through the catacombs of the Internet. Pessl, it turns out, is more Luddite than lurker, preferring flesh-and-blood interactions over digital ones.
"I love to live in the here and now," Pessl says on a recent Monday morning from a hotel room in Colorado. "I love the real-world copy. I love meeting [people] in the real world. "That's when we actually feel the most. In the end, we just don't feel as much when we're interacting [online]. I mean, our connections are there, but they're not as deep."
Even though Pessl recently gave in and created Twitter and Facebook accounts, she primarily views them as promotional tools for "Night Film" and as forums for her fans to interact with one another. You won't find her uploading photos of her lunch or retweeting cat memes anytime soon. "I don't post photos of myself," she says. "I don't take pictures and tag myself."
At a time when the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are calling for an end to privacy and attempting to reduce the human experience to a bloodless cascade of "likes" and "shares," "Night Film" offers a response in the form of a page-turning, sometimes old-fashioned, thriller. It argues for lives filled with mystery, and imagines a celebrity whose shunning of the spotlight at once fascinates and offends the public, most notably the novel's narrator, Scott McGrath, a disgraced journalist whose investigation of the death of Cordova's 24-year-old daughter is a thinly veiled attempt to reconcile the actual filmmaker with the one who exists in his imagination. His pursuit of Cordova offers as many hazards as rewards, and Pessl's book becomes a disquieting, if relentlessly entertaining, treatise on what it means to be a fan of art that dares you to appreciate it.
"There are these dark recesses and places [in life] that we can't pull online. And why is that a bad thing?" she asks. "I wanted to think in terms of a pop-cultural figure, someone who goes out of his way to be cloaked in mystery, and someone who isn't part of that machine-wash cycle of a movie coming out, and then actors appearing on 'David Letterman' and posing for publicity photos at Cannes, a figure who is the antithesis of all that, someone who wanted to remain underground. That's galvanizing, because I think if we have to seek something out, when we finally are able to experience that art, when we finally find it, it has so much more meaning."
Marisha Pessl will appear 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, at Books and Books, 256 Aragon Ave., in Coral Gables. Admission is free. Call 305-442-4408 or go to BooksAndBooks.com.
UPDATE: According to Books and Books' web site, Pessl's appearance has been canceled.