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Special Topics in Calamity Physics Paperback – April 24, 2007
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Praise for Special Topics in Calamity Physics
“A whirling, glittering, multifaceted marvel, delivered in an irrepressibly smart and flamboyant new voice. . . . Q: Is Special Topics in Calamity Physics required reading for devotees of inventive new fiction? A: Yes.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl’s tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring. . . . This skylarking book will leave readers salivating for more.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A blockbuster debut.”
—People (Critic’s Choice)
“Gripping and dark, funny and poignant . . . Pessl’s talent for verbal acrobatics keeps the pages flipping.”
“Witty and exuberant . . . Pessl’s pyrotechnics place her alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith.”
“Hip, ambitious, and imaginative . . . It’s always refreshing to find a writer who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A frisky, smarty-pants debut . . . An escapist extravaganza packed with literary and pop culture allusions, mischievous characterizations, erotic intrigue, murders, and unstoppable narrative energy.”
“Extravagant, witty and dark, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a sprawling campus novel, an intricate murder mystery, a coming-of-age tale and a sly satire of intellectualism and academia. Her prose is . . . vivid, erupting in a freefall of wordplay, wisecracks, encyclopedia tidbits, and a barrage of cultural references. . . . Her enthusiasm for language is a delight.”
“There is a voice here to like, part Huck Finn, part Holden Caulfield, part Fran Leibowitz, and part Nora Ephron.”
“A real novel, one of substance and breadth, with an arresting story and that rarest of delights, a great ending.”
“Special Topics in Calamity Physics made me stay up all night reading; in the morning it seemed like one of those parties where everyone is too cool for you but you desperately want to know them anyway. It reminded me of my lost, bad-girl days. I loved this book.”
—Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry
“Beneath the foam of this exuberant debut is a dark, strong drink.”
—Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections and Freedom
About the Author
Marisha Pessl is the author of Night Film and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, her bestselling debut, which was awarded the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize (now the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize) and selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.
Top customer reviews
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Ms. Pessl deserves praise and lots and lots of book sales for this stunning debut novel. Even though multiple clues shone like stars through the entire book, I did not guess the ending (a terrible habit of mine, which I dislike but usually do). In retrospect, I underestimated Ms Pessl's cleverness in weaving a yarn. The voice of her heroine is as brilliant and confused as only a teenager can be - it rings with truth, hope, and self-loathing.
I normally avoid novels with teenagers as protagonists, but I encourage you to give this one a try. I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book more (twice!).
I read Marisha Pessl's other novel, Night Film, and really liked it. Unlike Calamity, Night Film has a mostly linear plot, captured in a fairly concise manner (dragging some in one chapter). Based on Night Film, I'd considered ordering Special Topics in Calamity Physics for some time, and so:
My only real problems with Special Topics: I could have done with half the similes, along with far less of the real or fictive references. This isn't Infinite Jest, after all, and a lot of the parenthetical references don't add much real depth to the characters or situations. While the book is --well-written, funny, and with "clever"-taken-to-over-the-top-- I kept wanting more from the characters, less from the narrator and/or author.
But then again, the main character is 16 or 17, and the book is, in many ways, a coming of age story with dark elements. I did like the book, and it kept me entertained. Readers who get impatient with overly verbose style will be frustrated, I think, but the story is ultimately interesting and does have continuity interspersed throughout (even if I did keep wondering how Raymond Chandler would have written it).
This is a wildly original and imaginative book and much of Pessl's power is due not only to her brilliant writing but also to her outstanding creativity. For example, her paragraph on what happens when, "in severe circumstances . . . you inadvertently witness a person dead" (p. 346 in hb) is precisely such an original thought, as well as so brilliantly written, it does in fact take the breath away.
I read this after reading Rachel Kushner's The Flame Throwers The Flamethrowers: A Novel and think both of these outstanding young woman authors will have many more brilliant works for us. Both feature intrepid (well, sort of) young female protagonists, outstanding descriptive passages (I would give the nod here to Kushner, but just barely) but both to me are weak in staying with the plot and delivering a clear conclusion. Pessl also committed the dirty trick of revealing secrets at the end that she had not given to us before. (Am thinking specifically of p. 493, that Hannah had driven her home after her mother died.)
But while I can pick away at defects--here and in Flame Throwers--I think they gnaw at me because otherwise this book--and Flame Throwers--is simply so outstanding. Ms. Pessl is coming right out of the chute as a first-time novelist but this is a work of a confident, brilliant modern genius, who seems to have us in good hands. Yes, it is long, and yes I got bored with the little clique of in-group arrogant, privileged kids, yes the "mysteries" are not clearly solved, and yes, the ending is a muddle. But I could not stop reading! That is the acid test.
I suspect Ms. Pessl's work will only get stronger and more focused; it cannot become more brilliant although I look forward to her applying that brilliance to other areas of modern life.