Sunday, October 01, 2006

Special Topics is something of a calamity

85. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl. Fiction, 9-29, p. 514

There was a bit of a stir about first-time author Marisha Pessl’s age, advance and appearance after she signed her contract for Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Her age: 27. Her advance: hefty. Her appearance: attractive. There was some suggestion that the size of the advance was directly linked to her youth and attractiveness, rather than any qualities inherent in Special Topics.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 12 to 20 pages of Special Topics. It seemed funny, quirky, inventive and refreshing. But it got old, quickly, and – unfortunately – there were another 500 pages to go. Special Topics is the strange story of Blue van Meer a brilliant high school senior who annotates her every thought with references from books and movies, well, really, literature and cinema.

Late in the novel a group of erstwhile friends who are unhappy with Blue discuss her fate.

“Or we could stone her like they do in that short story. When all the townspeople descent and she starts to scream.”

“’The Lottery,’” I said, because I couldn’t help myself (Jackson, 1948).

She can’t, she really can’t help herself and it’s a conceit by author and character that grows increasingly tedious as the book progresses. The mystery at the heart of Special Topics is intriguing, but not enough to sustain the novel that utlimately is more cute than clever.

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