Friday, April 17, 2009

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

I just finished "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl. I admit, it took me much longer than usual to complete this book, due to my inability to read anything at night, a skill I apparently lost following my last undergraduate final exam. I was home today, as it was the first day of the Summit of the Americas and my neighbourhood is a high-security area so I would have to pass though various check-points and searches - something I was not up to doing, ever. But I digress.
When I first picked up this book, I had not expected a story filled with smart language, wit (as many stories boast humour and end up rather disappointingly 'bleh'), suspense, mystery (complete with 'Who would have thought?' and 'Oh dear God, no'), and my personal favourite, Visual Aids. I loved the sarcasm and snarky descriptions. To be honest, I don't know what I expected because the name of the book is rather misleading. I thought that the cover was very different from all the other paperbacks and New York Times Bestsellers on the shelf. This book was a single copy, in the corner at the bottom of the Fiction bookcase.
Now, I admit that there are a few things wrong with this book. A few things, meaning the same thing manifested many times. I'm not sure if the writer adequately edited this book or if the editor read every word of it. This is simply because there are sections where words were missing. I could tell that every ___ , !!! and ? would imply the same word per symbol. These errors were scarce but still present. Typographical errors typically aggravate me, so I was irked by this lack of proper beta-ing of the book. Then again, maybe it was just the copy I received.
Setting that aside, the book is told by a Blue van Meer, recapping her life at the ripe age of sixteen. Blue, who thought her name ridiculous but could not resent her parents wholly, for they were the most important people in her life. Her mother passed away when she was very young, so she was raised by her father. Blue's father was not an average male. He was an eccentric University Professor in Political Science who caused them to move at least three times a year not because they had to, but because he wanted to and because they could. Blue spent a great deal of her life reading books on literature, politics, history, science - you name it, she's read it. The book is riddled with references to books, papers and events much like an article or thesis would have. Her father recited bits from plays and fueled intellectual discussions so his daughter was no average sixteen year old. She noticed and remembered everything.
Blue was befriended by a teacher, Hannah Schneider, at her high school and she met five other students, the Bluebloods, who also spent their weekends with Hannah. This was not a story of child pornography, no, there were no perversions of the sort, but one of understanding and dealing with the hand that life throws. Blue spent most of the book alone, obscure and ostracized by society. The first half of the book dealt with her growing without her father's constant coddling, illegal drinking, teenage curiousity and escapades with the Bluebloods and Hannah. The second half was different.
A major event at a camping trip leads Blue's life to spiral out of control. She handled it well, at least I thought so, given her circumstances. She spent most of this half of the book trying to solve a mystery, and even when she seemingly solved it, life threw another curveball at her and she ended up as she did before - alone, obscure and ostracized.
One of my favourite quotes from the book came from Blue's father's clever tongue:
"I contend that we should take a cue from one of the greatest American movements of our time - a revolution in itself really, nobly warring as it does against time and gravity, also accountable for the most widespread perpetuation of alien-looking life forms on Earth. Cosmetic surgery."
I thought the ending was fitting but I wanted more. But I guess that was the point. So give it a read, it's worth the effort.

1 comment:

jun said...

nice blog, It worth.

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