A darkly hilarious coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer.
This mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a darkly hilarious coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledgeand is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guideor misguideher.
Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class and containing ironic visual aids (drawn by the author), Pessl's debut novel is complex yet compelling, erudite yet accessible. It combines the suspense of Hitchcock, the self-parody of Dave Eggers, and the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt with a dazzling intelligence and wit entirely Pessl's own.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Dad picked up women the way certain wool pants cant 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, youre a fool, with her back to him, Dads 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 ...
The novelty of the endless literary annotations, a few genuine but mostly fake, wore thin early on. What had more staying power were Pessl's entertaining turns of phrase, such as the police officer who saturated himself in Paul Revere-like cologne which "rode far ahead of him, alerting all of his impending arrival".
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (553 words).
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