Excerpt from Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2006, 528 pages
    Apr 2007, 528 pages

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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Dad picked up women the way certain wool pants can’t help but pick up lint. For years I had a nickname for them, though I feel a little guilty using it now: June Bugs (see “Figeater Beetle,” Ordinary Insects, Vol. 24).

There was Mona Letrovski, the actress from Chicago with wide-set eyes and dark hair on her arms who liked to shout, “Gareth, you’re a fool,” with her back to him, Dad’s cue to run over to her, turn her around and see the Look of Bitter Longing on her face. Only Dad never turned her around to see the Bitter Longing. Instead, he stared at her back as if it was an abstract painting. Then he went into the kitchen for a glass of bourbon. There was Connie Madison Parker, whose perfume hung in the air like a battered piñata. There was Zula Pierce of Okush, New Mexico, a black woman who was taller than he was, so whenever Dad kissed her she had to bend down as if peeking through a peephole to see who was ringing her bell. She started out calling me, “Blue, honey,” which, like her relationship with Dad, slowly began to erode, becoming “Bluehoney” and then “Blueoney,” ultimately ending with “Baloney.” (“Baloney had it in for me from the very beginning!” she screamed.)

Dad’s romances could last anywhere between a platypus egg incubation (19–21 days) and a squirrel pregnancy (24–45 days). I admit sometimes I hated them, especially the ones teeming with Ladies’ Tips, How-tos and Ways to Improve, the ones like Connie Madison Parker, who muscled her way into my bathroom and chastised me for hiding my merchandise (see “Molluscs,” Encyclopedia of Living Things, 4th ed.).

Connie Madison Parker, age 36, on Merchandise: “You got to put your goods on display, babe. Otherwise, not only will the boys ignore you but—an’ trust me on this, my sister’s flat as you—we’re talkin’ the Great Plains of East Texas—no landmarks—one day you’ll look down and have no wares at all. What’ll you do then?”

Sometimes June Bugs weren’t too terrible. Some of the sweeter, more docile ones like poor, droopy-eyed Tally Meyerson, I actually felt sorry for, because even though Dad made no attempt to hide the fact they were as temporary as Scotch tape, most were blind to his indifference (see “Basset Hound,” Dictionary of Dogs, Vol. 1).

Perhaps the June Bug understood Dad had felt that way about all the others, but armed with three decades’ worth of Ladies Home Journal editorials, an expertise in such publications as Getting Him to the Altar (Trask, 1990) and The Chill Factor: How Not to Give a Damn (and Leave Him Wanting More) (Mars, 2000) as well as her own personal history of soured relationships, most of them believed (with the sort of unyielding insistence associated with religious fanatics) that, when under the spell of her burnt-sugar aura, Dad wouldn’t feel that way about her. Within a few fun-filled dates, Dad would learn how intoxicating she was in the kitchen, what an Old Sport she was in the bedroom, how enjoyable during carpools. And so it always came as a complete surprise when Dad turned out the lights, swatted her ruthlessly off his screen, and subsequently drenched his entire porch in Raid Pest Control.

Dad and I were like the trade winds, blowing through town, bringing dry weather wherever we went.

Sometimes the June Bugs tried to stop us, foolishly believing they could reroute a Global Wind and permanently impact the world’s weather system. Two days before we were scheduled to move to Harpsberg, Connecticut, Jessie Rose Rubiman of Newton, Texas, heiress to the Rubiman Carpeting franchise, announced to Dad she was pregnant with his child. She tearfully demanded she move with us to Harpsberg or Dad would have to pay a One-time Initiation Fee of $100,000 with an ongoing direct debit of $10,000 per month for the next eighteen years. Dad didn’t panic. When it came to such matters, he prided himself with having the air of a maître d’ in a restaurant with an exorbitant wine list, preordered soufflé, and roving cheese cart. He calmly asked for confirmation with blood.

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Excerpted from Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Copyright (c) 2006 by Marisha Pessl. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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