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This is a unique book in that you really won t understand the point of anything until you finish. I really wanted to like this book.But it s a train wreck The literary carnage is so grotesque and horrifying, you can t help but look, read And I promise you, just take my word for it, that metaphor is better than most that Pessl uses in this debut novel of hers Despite what Bayard says, it s amazing what happens when you stop talking about a text and actually interact with it I ll tell you what happens disappointment Utter, utter disappointment.For all intents and purposes, the book doesn t even start until the second half when a certain major character is found dead by the narrator protagonist As readers, we learn about the death with the first line of Chapter 1 Before I tell you about Hannah Schneider s death, I ll tell you about my mother s So essentially, the first half of the book amounts to literary blue balls in which Pessl torments us with bad writing and we writhe in agony praying for release.It is a common formula to take the wit and wisdom of an adult and transplant it into an adolescent from Catcher in the Rye to Juno Pessl brings this trite technique to a new low Unlike the social relevance and humor of Diablo Cody or the sparse, unfathomable brilliance of Salinger, Pessl just writes with broad strokes and clunky rhetorical devices Her writing is hyperbolic and extreme She seems to pride herself on regurgitating endless references and allusions, but I would prefer that instead of describing someone as having the air of a Chateau Marmont bungalow about her, she just describe the damn person Do some real work, Marisha.And oh how Marisha Pessl loves similes and metaphors She and Augusten Burroughs should get together and have some kind of simiphor off Sample Pessl snippet Charles and his friends looked forward to the hours at her house much in the way New York City s celery thin heiresses and beetroot B picture lotharios looked forward to noserubbing at the Stork Club certain sweaty Saturday nights in 1943 see Forget About El Morocco The Xanadu of the New York Elite, the Stork Club, 1929 1965, Riser, 1981.I have two problems with this kind of writing.1 I don t know the way New York City s celery thin heiresses and beetroot B picture lotharios looked forward to noserubbing at the Stork Club certain sweaty Saturday nights in 1943 So this metaphor is completely useless to me Why can t Charles and his friends just look forward to the hours at her house 2 The damn parenthetical references They re throughout the entire book It s probably supposed to help clear up my first problem with this passage, but it only serves to remove me from the story in two really stupid ways 1 I stop reading and go look it up, or 2 Since I m reading a book about a high school senior who can t possibly know all of the books and references in parentheses, I can only assume this is Marisha Pessl being an annoying smartass with this kind of crappy Authorial Intrusion There s also Visual Aids throughout the book Drawings by the author Really annoying Really stupid Absolutely unnecessary At one point there is a blubbery Mercedes If anyone can send me a picture of a blubbery Mercedes, Authwhore will award you with a free book that is better than Special Topics in Calamity Physics.At one point, people say their names with paint by numbers politeness This is a problem because paint by numbers are not polite They can be tacky, painstaking, time consuming, fun, childish, whimsical, or any number of other things, but I don t think that there is anything polite about paint by numbers and certainly nothing polite about a writer using such poorly chosen imagery with reckless abandon and intending people read 514 pages of it.At one point, he either stared at the kid as if he were a Price is Right rerun, barely blinking, or replied in his molasses accent Nunna ya goddamn business How do you stare at a Price is Right rerun Well, Pessl knows that no one knows, so she tells us You barely blink Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh shouldn t she then just have wrote that he stared barely blinking instead of staring as if he were a Price is Right rerun, barely blinking Yes Yes she should have And that is why this book is categorically, officially, absolutely bad If you re still wondering how exactly you stare at a Price is Right rerun, this book will also leave you wondering how you look at a snag in tights Riveting stuff, really At one point, Officer Donnie Lee happened to have saturated himself in Paul Revere like cologne it rode far ahead of him, alerting all of his impending arrival Which doesn t even work Paul Revere rode to warn people not of his own arrival but of the British s So I guess that s why it s Paul Revere like But isn t there a better image for something that travels ahead to warn of itself A fog horn, perhaps A screeching buzzer on a truck At one point, Hannah was wearing a housedress the color of sandpaper The color of sandpaper Pessl, how imprecise can you be Is there a worse writer What type What grit What brand I ve seen gray sandpaper, black sandpaper, brown sandpaper, rust sandpaper, beige sandpaper..At one point, the narrator protagonist has a fight with her father and proceeds to throw books at him I was really hoping to learn that Marisha Pessl had some true postmodern class and sense of humor by having her throw this book at him.It didn t happen.I threw my own copy instead.For the record, Marisha Pessl is still hot.Not Sophie Dahl hot But still hot. Donna Tartt wrote a splendid book called The Secret History which both celebrated and skewered hyper intellectualism as well as explored the process of interacting with a text and the pleasures of narrative devices This book follows roughly the same storyline and, incidentally, the storyline of Daniel Handler s The Basic Eight, down to the study questions at the end , except there s absolutely no reason for the precious chapter titles and the annotated references they have no bearing on the story itself and the general effect is talking with someone who s read a lot of books and hasn t understood a damn one of them.The irritating dialogue isreminiscent of chick lit than of anything spoken in real life or in the realm of drama, and the narrator is utterly divorced from the grand intellectual she is supposed to be again see The Secret History for an excellent depiction of young scholars No one has any sort of believable emotional reaction to anything, because no one has any discernable personality traits Charles, Camilla, and Frances wander over from Tartt s novel to halfheartedly play roles as Charles, Leulah really and Nigel, and then get bored and leave after the story inexplicably becomes a murder mystery The only possible killer is so obviously telegraphed from early on that all of Blue s supermarket paperback mystery sleuthing is enragingly tiresome Also, there s some sort of limp romantic subplot that I guess we re supposed to care about.So where The Secret History is a brilliant story of the delights and dangers of text and narrative and a wrenching depiction of a classical sort of madnesss, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the same book shat out and frosted with irritatingly perky metaphors and the worst dialogue I ve seen outside of a Harlequin pulper If you want to read this book and aren t a fan of Donna Tartt, just read The Basic Eight, which is shorter andentertaining. I ve read other reviews and I believe the negative reviews have been written by people who didn t take time to really read the book and follow it all the way through It would be easy to do It s not a book you can speed read See Ulysses by James Joyce Sometimes I ll tear through a good book in a couple of days But there is so much in this book that you have to take your time to really comprehend it and get the good stuff out of it Marisha s writing technique is totally unique with her hundreds of references to great works of fiction, movie stars, reference books, and other explanations of behavior I laughed and enjoyed perhaps 60 percent of these and whipped through some of them, not quite following but knowing they d be worth studying if I were retired and hadtime Basically, this is a coming of age story The main character, Blue, has been raised by an intellectual professor who is always on the move dragging her around the country to different jobs with different universities Her mother died when she was very young, so her only deep relatinship is with her father And it is a very touching and loving relationship She becomes his Mini Me in many ways They land for her senior year in a very high end private school and as she is maturing and pulled into a group of cool kids by a very interesting and eccentric female teacher, her life starts to change as she tries to become a cool teenager, to date and party, to becomethan a smart but nerdy professor s perfect little daughter As all of this happens, she starts to realize that her father has a few flaws, has been having flings with women and treating them poorly, that he has lied about some of his meetings with other professors and that there may be some kind of secret second life going on There is murder, disappearances, first sexual experiences, shyness, embarassing moments of being young and tongue tied in front of a class, butthan anything, there is the touching love of a young girl for her father, and then how she deals with some unexpected, heart wrenching blows to her life Throughout the book, there were dozens and dozens of laugh out loud moments excellent insights into relationships and the little things that make us tick And even though much of the book was somewhat tongue in cheek, the main themes came through to me loud and clear and when I finally finished up after re reading the introduction a must unless you have a photographic memory I put the book down, sad that I was finished and hoping that there will be some kind of follow up. Yesterday it took me 5 hours to crawl through 18 pages, so I think it s safe to say I m not really into this I adored Night Film, so I thought I should give this a try, but it s not really my thing Oh well I tried with this book I gave it 150 pages, and at this moment in time I just can t get into it The constant literary allusions and pop culture references, mixed with the didactic and wordy writing style kept pushing me out of the story I d skim whole paragraphs just to find the important, plot moving parts of the sentences I held out hope for this one because I chose it for book club sorry, friends and it s been on my shelf for 2 years, so I felt like I had to conquer it But it s only day 3 of 2017, and I don t want to start off my year forcing myself to read a book I m not enjoying even if that means quitting on the first book of the year Now I m on to better reads This is a story told through books themselves, a whodunnit, a coming of ager Some will find this book too gimmickythe use of a syllabus outline, the visual aids, the fact that the first word of the book is dad and the last word is me thus encapsulating the entire story arch , the final exam But this book made me feel the way I did during a college lecture on Lolita, where the professor broke down Lolita by numbers, the numbers of the license plates, the hotel room numbers, etc They all swirled and anagrammed their way into a ridiculous formula at the end And so it turned out, that not only was Nabokov churning out a literary masterpiece, but a mathematical formula as well Who knew Certainly not 21 year old Me It might be gimmicky, but these sort of books are the literary equivalent of walking while chewing gum while playing the cello the authors are strange maestros of many art forms And so I ve concluded that Nabokov is the silent, invisible uncle of Special Topics , Pessl s patron saint, and not just because of the butterflies and the old professor precocious girl pairing. Let me start by saying that I did like this book I did Ms Pessl is probably too smart for her own good, but that s never stopped me before That said, as with most over intelectualized writings, I had trouble getting close to her, to her work There s such a lot of time spent obfuscating, demonstrating how clever she is, developing stacked metaphors and allusions, that the story is difficult to get lost in You are constantly reminded that you are reading a novel by a very smart young lady And while some of the characters are extensively developed Hannah, Jade, Blue s father , most of the others, including our heroine, Blue, remain very flat She, most of all, has so little emotion that it s difficult to believe her on the few occasions when she freaks out when she cries or yells, you wonder, Where did that come from Also, some of my friends have complained rightly that the last fifty ish pages seem to belong to a completely different book, that everything changes drastically right at the end, without ample warning Which true, true Although I guess that didn t bother me so much, because of course once it switches you can go, Oh so that s why that happened, and that, and that But still I guess it was a little hard to swallow.In any case, the book is definitely compelling, interesting, imaginative, original, etc., etc., etc And really, it s only her first book, so she s got lots of time to improve I ll read her next one, for sure. There s a special cold black place in my heart for writers under thirty who come out of nowhere with a best selling much praised first novel for which they receive huge advances and instant fame The feeling is called jealousy deep, shoulda been me jealousy that clouds my ability to judge the book itself.Which brings us to Marisha Pessl and Special Topics in Calamity Physics Every big review I read of it was glowing and every writer under thirty I talked to said it was a piece of steaming shit but that I should totally read the novel they re working on Turns out that my opinion falls somewhere squarely in the middle.The parts of the book that failed were the overly quirky bits and the gimmicky bits Although the narrator is characterized as smart and scholarly, much of the book is over written, especially during slow periods What do I mean by over written Describing a pair of boots as being the shape of Italy or someone s face being shaped like a box of Valentines Day candy Say the boots were shaped like boots Say the woman had a heart shaped face Pessl leans hard on the simile and the metaphor in this book, many times at the expense of simple, straightforward description By having a complex, intelligent narrator, she s trying to say, I m doing it on purpose but it still seems indulgent and silly and, ultimately, keeps us holding her world at arm s length.Pessl also struggles with dialogue and realistic characters often I found myself thinking, that high school student would never say that or that gas station attendant would never say that All of the characters tended to sound the same and think the same Sure, if it was a high school student, Pessl would add some likes and a reference to J Lo, but mostly, the person would sound like the voice of the narrator, a voice which I am guessing is the voice of Pessl herself.But there is some beautiful writing in the book Entire chapters were I ll say it riveting Without exception, the riveting chapters were the chapters with a lot of action in them chapters where it felt like Pessl forgot that she was a writer trying to impress people with her first novel In these chapters boots were boot shaped, the language was natural, and the characters got to act like themselves.These good chapters led me to the conclusion that Pessl s problem might be discipline She doesn t know when to cut out the cute or overly wrought stuff yet The Writing Buddha says, kill your children and Pessl, time and again, couldn t manage to do that The result is a book filled with things that made the author smile, dalliances, and clever asides that don t do much except make the book longer I suspect she also lacked an editor who could kill those children for her.The plot was aight It was a pretty basic murder mystery formula and I guessed the end 150 pages before the end happened even though I m not good at guessing endings It would have been much better and muchfast moving if, again, someone author or editor had cut it down to amanageable length.Where does that leave us I think Pessl s got some talent I think that, for a first novel, this was an achievement On the other hand, she s got a ways to go and I hope all of the praise does not set herfirmly in some of her ways Talent is something you re born with and being born with talent is easy Now she s got some hard work ahead of her about learning when to hold back and about learning about the human condition outside of her own privileged experiences. `Free Ebook ↙ Special Topics in Calamity Physics ⇲ The Mesmerizing New York Times Bestseller By The Author Of Night FilmMarisha Pessl S Dazzling Debut Sparked Raves From Critics And Heralded The Arrival Of A Vibrant New Voice In American Fiction At The Center Of Special Topics In Calamity Physics Is Clever, Deadpan Blue Van Meer, Who Has A Head Full Of Literary, Philosophical, Scientific, And Cinematic Knowledge But She Could Use Some Friends Upon Entering The Elite St Gallway School, She Finds Some A Clique Of Eccentrics Known As The Bluebloods One Drowning And One Hanging Later, Blue Finds Herself Puzzling Out A Byzantine Murder Mystery Nabokov Meets Donna Tartt Then Invites The Rest Of The Western Canon To The Party In This Novel With Visual Aids Drawn By The Author That Has Won Over Readers Of All Ages