Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nerd's Delight

I need to say, right off, that Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl is a literature-lover's book.

The first thing I noticed was that Pessl titled each chapter with a work of literature, and that each chapter has subtle references/resemblances to that work. She is a young (twenty-something when she wrote this) writer who, evidently, likes to show off her literary knowledge. This may put off many from reading this book, and I can't really recommend it to anyone who might shrink from this sort of thing. But to those of us who thrill to seeing so many literary references (often a bit too much - I think Pessl is showing off much of the time), this book is one to put on the list.

A short synopsis of the book: Blue Van Meer is a 16-year-old who arrives in a small North Carolina town and attends an exclusive prep school. She has spent her childhood traveling the country with her father (a charming college professor), going from school to school. Most of the book follows her through her senior year at St. Gallways and her unusual acceptance into an exclusive group who call themselves the Bluebloods. The story follows Blue's relationships with the Bluebloods and with Hannah Schneider, the film teacher (film teacher??) who is the leader and nexus of the group. The story takes a really odd turn when Blue finds Hannah dead - strung up in a tree with electrical extension cord. (This is not a spoiler, as it is mentioned in the introduction of the book.)

Let me just say that the rest of the book winds dizzyingly into a mystery that is never really "solved" or explained. The final chapter of the book is titled "Final Exam" and literally asks more questions than it answers. I warn you that this can be a frustrating book for anyone who likes their novels to have some finality. All I can say is that I loved this book.

And be sure to check out the extremely clever little website set up for this book.

1 comment:

Jack said...


That would be a difficult book for me to accept... along the same lines as Len Deightons books where Smiley manipulates and uses people, where you learn to love and identify with the characters, only to have them all killed off at the end. It leaves you with a sense of "What was the USE?"

But, then again, life is a lot like that. It doesn't always answer questions and solve the mysteries, while sometimes raising more questions than it solves.

The reason it may not be satisfying to many is that we read for a sense of escape and completion, not to extend our real world (he says, noticing yet another reality show on TV)

NC has a wonderful writers worship up in the Ashville area (in the mountains). I'm wondering if she's one of the authors I'd read about when investigating that!