The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing (Paperback)
As a vehicle for a slowly unfolding, creeping sense of horror, Rombes’ choice of a multi-day interview of an eccentric film critic recalling a series of underground films he destroyed because they depicted too brazenly ‘the undiluted truth’ as conducted by an unreliable narrator may seem...counter-intuitive. With each level of removal from the too-horrific films, the distance is increased, and thus, one would think, their potency diminished, but it’s a testament to Rombes’ writing that just the opposite is true. The films, a visual art, lose none of their power through description, and as the book unfolds, one has the sense of being caught in a nightmare. The story is a metaphysical layered cake, and all the ingredients are dark and unsettling. Yet, though the unease grows viscerally, there is little outright horror to this book. The supernatural elements are implied, hinted at, seen only peripherally before disappearing when confronted head on, but the sense lingers that something was there, something that persists still.
As a vehicle for a slowly unfolding, creeping sense of horror, Rombes' choice of a multi-day interview with an unreliable narrator recalling a series of underground films destroyed by an eccentric film critic is nearly unbeatable. This story is a metaphysical layer cake, and all the ingredients are dark, bloody, and unsettling. And though the unease grows viscerally, there is little outright horror. The supernatural elements are implied, hinted at, seen only peripherally before disappearing when confronted head on; but the sense lingers that something was there, something that persists still.
It's hard to explain the pure delight I feel thinking about a man reading his notes from a voiceover that he recorded of a movie he had watched (alone) and had subsequently destroyed, eradicating the terrible 'undiluted truth' it presented -- a thing too horrible to allow to exist. With each level of removal, the distance is increased, and thus, one would think, the potency diminished. It's a testament to Rombes' writing that just the opposite is true. The films lose none of their power through description, and as the book unfolds, one has the sense of being caught in a nightmare.
Though he makes no claims to it, Rombes strikes me as a spiritual successor to Roberto Bolaño, finding the intersection of art and life, and enfolding it in a gradually increasing sense of paranoia and doom. -- Chris P.
*A Best Book of 2014 --Flavorwire, Entropy Magazine, Book Riot
"The novel is an attempt to write about film through fiction, engaging both art forms at once with the analytic mind of the academic and the imagination of the storyteller. In the process, Rombes found the freedom of fiction pushing him towards a new type of writing. For the reader, there is little we can know for sure, but this is what makes the book so exciting."
In the mid-'90s a rare-film librarian at a state university in Pennsylvania mysteriously burned his entire stockpile of film canisters and disappeared. Roberto Acestes Laing was highly regarded by acclaimed directors around the globe for his keen eye, appreciation for eccentricity, and creativity in interpretation.
Unsure at first whether Laing is a pseudonym or some sort of Hollywood boogeyman, a journalist manages to track the forgotten man down to a motel on the fringe of the Wisconsin wilds. Laing agrees to speak with the journalist, but only through the lens of the cinema. What ensues is an atmospheric, cryptic extrapolation of movies and how they intertwine with life, and the forgotten films that curse the lost librarian still.
About the Author
Nicholas Rombes teaches in Detroit, Michigan. He is author of Ramones from the 33 1/3 series and the book 10/40/70. His writing has appeared in The Believer, Filmmaker Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, n+1, and The Rumpus.