Monday, February 28, 2011

book review: special topics in calamity physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Marisha Pessl

Calamity Physics:  The resulting explosion of energy, light, heartbreak, and wonder as Blue van Meer enters a small, elite school in a sleepy mountain town.  Blue's highly unusual past draws her to a charismatic group of friends at St. Gallway (see page 2, "wild, wayward youths" Everyman Parenting) and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider.  A sudden drowning, a series of inexplicable events, and finally the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries.  And Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her grimlet-eyed instinct and cultural lexicon to guide her.

Star Rating:

I'm still wrapping my head around this book.  It's very detailed, incredibly well-researched.  I'm impressed.  It's not the type of book where you feel good walking away from.  The ending didn't feel like an ending, more like an ending interrupted, but I think that is exactly what the writer (Marisha Pessl) intended.  In that way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the ending.  The reader is left thinking and wondering.  We can fill in the blanks for ourselves.

In some ways, it was difficult to read this book just because it was set up like an incredibly long MLA essay.  I found myself skimming over things when they got incredibly scientific.  Only once did I feel like I had missed something when I skipped sections, and the time that I did feel as though I missed something, going back and re-reading it twice, thoroughly didn't give me any more closure.  I think those who read this book very closely will have it figured out long before I did.

I found the writing to be very careful and very deliberate.  I think this book is an excellent example to aspiring writers about the importance of relevant information and careful editing - every word in this book was there for a reason.  Regardless of whether or not it was an enjoyable book, it was an excellent piece of writing.

As for the characters, they were remarkably real-to-life.  If you're looking for a happy ending or beautiful, romantic characters, there isn't a single one to be found.  All the characters are either depressingly shallow people (note:  I said people, not characters.  The characters are very round.) or else they are a lying caricature of themselves.  It's difficult to find a single character to sympathise with, to care about.  Mostly, as the reader, I found that I wanted answers.  That was why I kept reading.  But I didn't read the last chapter, which was in the format of a "final exam".  I had read enough, and I think that even without that supposedly knowing the deepest, darkest secret that chapter may reveal, I know enough.

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