4/26/2008

Special Topics in Calamity Physics


Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl


My teacher book club (as opposed to my neighborhood book club) read this book recently, and of all the books we've read in awhile, this one generated the most buzz. Folks either loved it or hated it, but we all had strong opinions. The general consensus , after much heated debate , was :

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1)Quirky, original writing style. Alternately very refreshing, and after awhile, somewhat annoying. Some members of my book club actually looked up all the many annotated references used in this story......and none of them were real. Save yourself the trouble. Just enjoy them for the cute, humorous comments they make, as a sort of para-textual joke.

2)Great who-dunnit , along the lines of one of those participatory murder mystery theater dinner things. Really keeps you guessing, if you can wade through the 500+ pages.....

3)Overall concept, as a book, very well done, from the drawings, made in-character by the main character, to the "Great Books" reading list that comprises the chapter headings ( along with clever parody of those books' contents) , to the pop quiz at the end, which wraps it all up.

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Basic story line : Blue van Meer is the intelligent daughter of a nomadic college professor (whatever happened to tenure ? as the wife of a college prof, I did wonder how the dad manages to always get another new job ). Blue and her dad roam around America, moving from town to town, job to job, always under questionable circumstances, reminiscent of the characters in Paper Moon. As the story ambles along, one gradually figures out that all is not as it seems, there is a lot going on beneath the surface, and part of Blue's coming of age is the maturation that allows her (and the reader ) to begin to figure out the clues of her father's true occupation. Having taught in an exclusive private preppy high school, once upon a time, I can say the portrait of a similar school in this book is spot-on. A gripping page turner, there were passages that made me laugh so hard I choked.

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