Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lisa's Review: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

What an unusual book. This is Marisha Pessl's first book, and she sure shows off her talent for writing! I turned down so many passages I loved that I couldn't possibly highlight them here.

This is the story of Blue van Meer, a high school girl that undergoes a crisis experience in her senior year. There was a point reading the book where I said "I really don't like this book, because I hate this character." Since I believe it was the author's intent that the reader would feel that way at that point in the narrative, I guess it's an example of good writing. Many people have commented that the book really picks up the pace in the second half, and I'd have to agree. An intricate mystery, the author spends the first half of the book painstakingly putting each thread in place and then unraveling them with lightning speed in the second half.

The book is written like a research paper, so very often in the book the narrator will be talking about something and then reference a written work or fictional story in parenthesis. This is really clever, but ended up being the only thing I really didn't like about the book. By the end, I was pretty much just skipping over all the parenthesis in order to get back to the real story.

Here's an example of her writing:

As Dad said, the difference between a dynamic and a wasted uprising depends upon the point at which it occurs within a country's historic timeline (see Van Meer, "The Fantasy of Industrialization", Federal Forum, Vol. 23, Issue 9). Jade and Lu were still developing nations. And thus, while it wasn't fantastic, it also wasn't too terrible for them to have a backward infrastructure and a poor human development index. But Hannah - she was much farther along. She should have already established a robust economy, peacefulness, free trade - and as these things weren't yet assured, frankly, it wasn't looking good for her democracy. She could very well struggle forever, with "corruption and scandal perpetually undermining [her] credibility as a self-ruled state."

1 comment:

kookiejar said...

I think you hit upon exactly why I hated this book so much that I didn't bother to finish it. The fake notations.

I guess it was supposed to prove how smart and well-read Blue was, but to me it would have just been better to skip all that or to cite REAL literary material (it wouldn't have been hard to research, so it seems like laziness to me).

I also just wasn't digging the whole 'precocious motherless teen falls in with quirky intellectual crowd...something bad happens...teen learns a valuable lesson' vibe. It's been done before and done better, IMHO.

I know tons of people just adored this book, but I found it an utter bore. Maybe it just wasn't for me. I'm glad you liked it, Lisa. Every book should be lucky enough to find a receptive reader. Thanks for the review.