“When a person did not know they were being watched, what they would do when they believed themselves to be in a state of true privacy—that was the lure of found footage, that clarification of human mystery, and that was why surveillance was so lethal: a true erosion of privacy inevitably led to an erosion of self.’”

— Laura van den Berg, The Third Hotel


“The more you look, the less you really know. It’s a fact, a true fact. In a way, it’s the only fact there is.”

— Reidenschneider, The Man Who Wasn’t There


If you’re looking for scenes draped in a ravenous disquiet, if you hunger for intrigue without the mindless terror, then reading Laura van den Berg’s latest novel and watching the only black-and-white Coen movie is the right combo for you.

This pairing also:

  • Contains delicious neo-noir sensibilities
  • Warns us that inertia is anything but
  • Features misdirected obsessions
  • Explores how the lives of couples will never completely make sense to those outside of them, and also how the separate selves within that couple will never be fully expressed to the other
  • Turns haircuts into existential experiences
  • Gives us a picture of the ever-deepening chasms caused by any level of deception
  • Constantly questions what can be observed
  • Portrays female characters finding themselves in positions of objectification and their occupations serving as scapegoats for deeper issues
  • Refuses tidy resolutions to multifaceted mysteries
  • Highlights the way fractured, compartmentalized minds lead to complicated, distant relationships
  • Alludes to crime and horror legends while creating something totally distinct


With stunted police interviews, mild-mannered people taking uncharacteristic leaps, and settings that make you wonder what the word “ghost” truly means, you will be utterly enthralled. Both the Coen brothers and van den Berg always pleasantly surprise me in that they’ve carved out individual voices for themselves, yet they create something uniquely compelling with each new work.