Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
In an airport, your old life vanishes temporarily as you wait to board a plane to somewhere else. You’re on hold and time stops as you sit inside a pause. Time itself is relative as the only time that matters is your ETD.
The airport gate was a perfect setting to read Marisha Pessl’s phenomenal new novel, Neverworld Wake. Time stops in Neverworld, and traps five former high school friends in an uncomfortable and seemingly permanent reunion. It’s a literary Groundhog Day, but a world in which there is no Buddhist undertone of acceptance. In Neverworld, each time they repeat a day, the world around them rots and sprouts mildew.
Beatrice Hartley hasn’t seen her boarding school friends in a year, ever since her boyfriend Jim was found dead near their New England campus. The rest of the group has moved on with their lives, while Beatrice helps out at her family’s seaside restaurant. Jim’s death shapes Bee’s life, and she is trapped in her memories. One summer night, Bee is invited to join her old circle of friends for a birthday celebration. There is rich and troubled Whitley, and the abrasive and brilliant Martha. The three men are Cannon, a genius programmer, southern charmer Kipling, and the ghost of Jim. None of them speak about Jim’s mysterious death, and the drunken and awkward evening comes to an abrupt end as the five almost crash on the way home from a bar. It’s late at night on August 30th when they stumble into the mansion of rich, beautiful, troubled Whitley, and that’s when time ends.
A strange man comes to the door and tells the group they will be trapped in this day until they vote on which one of them should survive the crash – and the vote must be unanimous. The surprising part is that the situation seems entirely believable. Pessl is a master of creating entire worlds. In her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Pessl invented a secret anarchic underground, as well as hundreds of supporting documents to support. In Night Film, Pessl imagined an entire universe of references and characters, starting with the controversial and reclusive director, Stanislas Cordova. What’s especially compelling about Neverworld Wake is that the reader believes Bee’s account of why time ends, and how the group of friends decides to solve the tragedy of Jim’s death. At the same time, Bee is an unreliable narrator, and doesn’t always tell the truth. Some of her insights might be false, and sometimes she lies.
Neverworld Wake lacks some of the brash assurance of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and the friendship between Bee and the others can feel hard to believe. But Pessl creates a magic in her books. I read this eating a passable Greek salad at Newark’s Terminal B, waiting for a flight – and time did stop for Bee and for me. I started the book again as soon as I finished.
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl (Delacorte Press, 2018)
SEE ALSO: Book and Film Globe review of Night Film.