Monthly Archives: October 2008

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

penguin books, ltd. copyright 2006. 514 pages.

generation-x authors are proving to be refreshingly impressive. it’s as if they have taken the norm of novel writing and reading to a whole new dimension. if Jonathan Safran Foer (b. 1977) made “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” into a multi-media read, Marisha Pessl, (b. 1977) has taken a more traditional path, but in an overdone and quirky style that it comes out a breakthrough.

the whole book is riddled with citation, reference, footnotes and nicely done hand illustrations that the novel seems to be a research paper cum diary.

Central character Blue van Meer lives a nomadic life with her narcissistic and protective father, Gareth, who works as a professor almost all over the country. the first chapters of the book (chapters which are all named after notable literary works from Othello to Metamorphoses) breeze you through Blue’s childhood following the death of her butterfly-obsessed mother. Blue narrates her nomadic school life and her father’s cassanova affairs with the so-called “June-Bugs” of every state like it’s the most natural thing.

It is when they make Stockton, North Carolina their next stop when the ‘real’ plot begins. Blue meets Hannah Schneider, a teacher in her new school, puts her on a pedastal and quietly admires her through her perceptive observations. she makes it her goal to play matchmaker between her father and Hannah Schneider. Meanwhile, Hannah also gets into a ‘fixation’ with Blue and asks ‘the Bluebloods’ to invite Blue in their weekly gatherings. “The Bluebloods” are a group of famous high school students that Hannah Schneider has taken under her motherly radical wing and they revere Hannah with great fervor.

When Hannah invites Blue and the Bluebloods into one fateful hiking trip, the plot finally thickens. Blue becomes the only witness when she finds Hannah’s body hanging by a piece of electrical cord. She becomes an outcast again and soon enough, the story pace amps up when she makes it her mission to solve the suicide-or-murder mystery.

In a manner that reminds me very much of the movie, “The Usual Suspects”, the answers to her quest come up.

The book ends sadly and also mysteriously, with a “Final Exam” type last chapter, which seems to bring (or does it not?) answers to the reader.

3.5 stars out of 5. Less words would have made it a perfect 5.  its a nice work overall but it didn’t Have to be 514 pages.

author Marisha Pessl

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