Breaking Bad & Marisha Pessl’s Night Film

I recently declared this my “Unintellectual Autumn.”  I’m in the middle of a month-long binge on contemporary literary fiction and award-winning TV shows.

I may not have known what was going on in the culture before, but now I have a better idea.

I’ve read books by wannabes literary stars, and I’ve read books by the masestros.

Jesse and Walt in "Breaking Bad."

Jesse and Walt in “Breaking Bad.”

I’ve also been watching Breaking Bad, the Emmy award-winning series about Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth to support his family after he is diagnosed with cancer.  The writing, directing, and acting are brilliant, and the characters are vivid and intelligently-portrayed. As the series develops, there is an odd twist:  Walt’s sometimes drug-addicted partner, Jesse, becomes the more ethical and less psychopathic of the two.

In both contemporary novels and the better TV shows, the dialogue is smart and ironic, the double standards of the economy are apparent, and society is crumbling.

Sometimes contemporary literary fiction is rather like watching TV, so I’ve been cheating on my Unintellectual Autumn with Tolstoy.

Luv ya, Tolstoy!  (I’m saying this for anyone who took my “Unintellectual Autumn” too literally.)


night film 18770398I very much enjoyed the first two-thirds of thirtysomething Marisha Tessl’s literary horror novel, Night Film.  Though it is overlong at 600 pages, and the writing is uneven in the last lap,  it is one of those books often described as “a roller coaster ride.”  I like the tough, ironic voice of the narrator, Scott McGrath, an investigative reporter whose career and credibility were ruined after he verbally attacked Cordova, a cult art-horror film director, on the basis of a phone tip.  (Any journalist can tell you how fast this kind of thing can happen.) Now, with the apparent suicide of Cordova’s daughter Ashley, who for reasons of her own was stalking McGrath, he reopens the investigation.  And a quirky trip it is.  Middle-aged McGrath sounds more like a P.I. than a reporter, and the horror novel is also a mystery.

In the course of his investigation, he acquires two young assistants, Hopper, a hard-drinking, pill-popping  friend of Ashley’s; and Nora, a homeless girl who worked briefly as a hat-check girl at a restaurant and rescued Ashley’s coat from the lost-and-found.  These two unstable young people, who have survived rocky childhoods, are characteristic of the nightmarish, futureless culture from which Ashley was a refugee.

The most interesting aspect of this novel is its structure.  The narrative is interwoven with fake newspaper and magazine articles about the Cordovas.  I just wish there were more of these in the last half of the book.

If you like a fast pace, detailed descriptions of edgy art films, histrionic confessions of retired actresses and antique dealers, and trips to the witchcraft store,  this is for you.

A  great airplane read!

4 thoughts on “Breaking Bad & Marisha Pessl’s Night Film

  1. Why is the latter called Night Film? The title intrigues me.

    I’ve finished watching all of Breaking Bad last night — I watched each season through and then watch the episodes individually snapping pictures and then watch the features — which are often very good. The books I’ve gotten thus far are all moralizing conventionally, but each has much to think about — if at times you must go against the grain of the apparent moral imposed on what’s said about the series. The Wanna Cook Unofficial Companion enables you to see more about the film, and Breaking Bad and Philosophy has real food for thought. How about this thought for now: it’s a Jekyll and Hyde paradigm, with a second self, Heisenberg emerging under the exigencies of a direct threat of death and bankruptcy, with Jesse as a lost waif his society could find no place for (an artist manque).


    • Ellen, I haven’t finished watching Breaking Bad, but I do notice that Jesse straightens up, due to Mike’s influence, and questions the wisdom of killing anyone in sight. Mike is loyal to his people, and we see that the underachieving Walter wants to be a drug lord, and thinks nothing of killing. I am very surprised by these developments…


  2. Fun, fun, and more fun! I read i last year and it was one of my favorites. Loved McGrath’s wandering through those eerie movie sets, the “doll-dominated” magic, and the nuts who tell him Cordova stories.


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