Special Topics in Calamity Physics

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Click for availability and more information Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

After about 50 pages I wasn't sure I was going to make it through this; Pessl's writing seemed too clever by half. Many of her analogies and metaphors (and there are quite a bit of them) seemed showy and unnatural. Throughout the book she references imaginary reference books (with parentheses, publishers, dates and everything.) There were times I could almost picture her patting herself on the back. She wears her erudition on her sleeve. I stuck with it however and I am glad I did.
Over its course it's really two different books, the first being the story of Blue Van Meer, precocious daughter of Gavin Van Meer, a college professor who moves he and his daughter to a series of backwater universities (like the University of Arkansas, Wilsonville, etc.) Her mother was killed in an automobile crash and Blue is ferociously devoted to her father.
Upon her senior year in high school her dad decides to settle down in North Carolina and Blue attends St. Gallway school. There she is quickly befriended by a mysterious teacher named Hannah Schneider and also falls in with a clique of fellow students nicknamed The Bluebloods.
It is at this point the story turns from a faux memoir to something more menacing and chilling. Her relationship with Hannah and the others leads her to a dark secret. Pessl's writing becomes less precious and she gets down to business. What follows makes the reader's head spin; there is a foreboding undercurrent of mystery that forces the reader to carry on. No one seems innocent; everyone seems to have emotional baggage. Things are not as they seem... or are they? There are moments of devastation but Blue carries on. She is a hero but that heroism comes at a huge personal cost.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much information put forth in this novel that, at times, it makes the head spin. There are twists but not in hackneyed cliff-hanger style. This is richly rewarding and amazing stuff for a first novel.
-Stephen

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry published on September 14, 2007 5:35 PM.

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