Night Rooms is unlike anything I have ever read.
So much so that I have repeated that phrase to anyone who will listen, including the author.
I asked Gina Nutt, over email, light-headed at the opportunity to talk to someone I had already decided was a pioneer, how this book came to be. “I have to assume it happened naturally,” I wrote, thinking it was too strange to be intentional.
Night Rooms does this thing where, paragraph by paragraph, the narrator moves seamlessly from describing a scene in a horror film to describing a scene from her life. It is seamless. Early on the reader can’t discern the cues that a switch has happened. In my mind, I imagined Nutt following her whims: one moment leading to the next, one movie overlapping with one scene from life, all of the lights low, all of the shadows waiting.
I was wrong about the super-natural flow of the book. This kind of elaborate work was deliberate and took years of revision, Nutt said.
“To find the right flow, I printed the manuscript, or particular essays, cut them — paragraph by paragraph, usually — and moved the pieces around,” she wrote.
This absolute weaving of horror with reality had me leaving the hall light on at night and sticking to familiar routes on my drives. When you can’t tell horror from nonfiction, you’re left in a special kind of dark place.
The collection is “like plunging into temporary night,” Nutt wrote. “It also nods to the thread of rooms as painful experiences, spaces we close off so we can move through the world. Structurally, too, the book is like moving through different ‘rooms’ of my head—picking up an idea, setting it down, sometimes circling back.”
The book is categorized as “essays,” which I can understand — each section is separate, has a particular point of focus — but I don’t think I’d be able to read it that way. The sections are braided together in such a way that they feel more like chapters to me, one overarching narrative that reads like Wes Craven writing Brautigan. Ends seem to fray and then tie together in later sections, macabre meets nostalgia in a 21st century vanitas.
Nutt quotes films, books, journalism in italics, fits references in without pause. These show up as endnotes camouflaged within the narrative, adding to a dream-like quality taken on throughout the volume.
Her background in poetry informed her essay collection, Nutt said. “I pushed through the earliest full draft by telling myself I was writing one prose poem after another, lingering on images or phrases, letting each paragraph be its own full world.”
There are moments where a universal shows up, unexpected, with asides like in the seventh essay, “Some sentiments invite good luck and others ward off bad luck. The distinction lies between wishing for success and deflecting misfortune.” Other times, she paints broad strokes, using analogies to hide a greater truth, as in the eighth essay: “One assumption about a final girl being the person who lives to tell the story is that her survival is attached to telling; she is expected to say it, to tell, again and again; she can’t live without a saying so revealing she is bare before the audience, the moment is bare.”
The reason for this intricate scaffolding within Night Rooms is that aforementioned play with structure.
“The earliest essay I wrote toward the book, I broke up and stretched out as a skeletal framework to guide me,” Nutt wrote. “So I had the larger arc in mind as I kept writing and revising, focusing on the individual essays at the same time as I carried the book’s larger themes. I always envisioned an intentionally connected set of pieces, yet there was also a lot of rearranging, putting parts together and making connections, branching out and following new ideas, then repeating the process.”
Beyond the formatting and language, what most appealed to me about Night Rooms is the content. Horror, as a genre, is often underrated or ignored altogether as an art form. When someone with an elite education takes to horror in a hybrid-style elegy, it opens the genre to a new audience. When asked why horror, Nutt said,
“I love many things about horror, but one in particular is how vast it is as a genre,” Nutt told me. “And as much as horror depicts violence and suffering and cruelty, it also imagines survival, maybe illuminates other possible futures. I think there’s enough range that anyone willing to find their entry point will encounter films that resonate with them.”
I would have classified Night Rooms as a memoir in lyric or a combination treatise on grief and film. I have begged the people around me to read it, to engage with me, to talk about how to defy genre, break form, reimagine narrative. I want to use this text as a model for how to show love to a form and to the self.
In this book, I found new ways to read and write, sure, but more than anything, in every word I found survival.