Dark Rooms, the debut novel by Lili Anolik, is the sort of mystery that you will rip through in a night. Early on, narrator Grace Baker quotes Edgar Allen Poe: “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” For Grace, however, it’s not so poetic — her beautiful younger sister, Nica, was murdered on the grounds of their prep school, upending Grace’s life. In the aftermath of the killing, Grace is seeing things through a haze of prescription drugs, a college dropout obsessed with solving the crime.
The result evokes some of your favorite creepy, surreal small-town prep school mysteries — sometimes like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, sometimes like Marsha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics — but it’s all filtered through Anolik’s fresh, captivating voice, lending the work a rare, dreamy quality.
As Dark Rooms is the sort of book that benefits from mystery, we talked with Anolik, who’s also a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, about some of her favorite noir books and movies that played a part in creating the vibe of Dark Rooms.
The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman
This choice came to Anolik quickly, “since I saw Inherent Vice, which partook of this druggy, surfer vibe that Altman had in The Long Goodbye. Pauline Kael loved The Long Goodbye and she wrote that long review of it [in The New Yorker].” It is, Kael says, “a high-flying rap on Chandler and the movies.”
Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder
This is Anolik’s “favorite straight-up noir.” When she was in Los Angeles recently, she went on a pilgrimage: “The house [from Double Indemnity] is still there. Right in front of the doors are these twisty plants and it still looks the same. It was fun to see it.”
Tapping the Source, Kem Nunn
“It’s this book that I love that I feel never got enough attention. Supposedly it was the basis for Point Break, it’s a surf noir. I named my oldest baby Ike after a character from it. Nunn did stuff on Deadwood and then John From Cincinnati, and then he had a weird Hollywood career — he did a rewrite on Wild Things. It was trashy but kind of good, too.”
Mulholland Drive, David Lynch
“I missed Twin Peaks. I remember my babysitter would be watching it and I would be listening to the music outside of the room, but I wasn’t allowed in there, obviously. My first David Lynch was Lost Highway, which feels like a blueprint for Mulholland Drive. It doesn’t quite work and I sort of like it. David Lynch is huge for me, I guess the two masterpieces are that and Blue Velvet, but I like Mulholland better.”
Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock
“Vertigo and Muholland Drive are two of my favorite movies. I have the poster of Vertigo over our bed, in order to give us bad dreams. So gripping, so obsessive. They’re love stories but they’re hate stories. Mysteries that are never-ending. They suck you into a vortex and they don’t end. They’re like the way you experience trauma. It sucks you in. It’s like the whirlpool in Vertigo. It’s more circular than just a beginning and end.”