… I can put away Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics for good because I have finished it!!
I can consider it as some sort of accomplishment because not many people who had picked up the book actually finished it. Just read the user reviews on Amazon.com Apparently, some gave up at page 50, after being bored out of their wits by the third page (the book has some 600 over pages; that’s about as thick as the latest Harry P0tter installment – I checked).
I almost gave up on the book myself but I persevered because I know that the book has potential. When Blu3 wasn’t having conversations with herself (in her mind that is); when she didn’t punctuate or break her sentences with footnotes and references to the hundreds of books and encyclopedias which she had read; when she is actually interacting with people, the book makes for an engaging read.
The characters I love in the book are the ones making cameos. Like Zach Sodenberg the tall and geeky high school jock who asked Blue to the prom or that guy from the gas station whom Blue goes to when she needs to borrow a getaway car. Even Dum and Dee, her bitchy and slightly round twin classmates, are interesting . Frankly, Blue, her dad, the “Bluebloods” and the psycho film studies teacher bore me.
Some people call this book too smart for its own good and that Pessl was too busy trying to impress her readers than actually cook up a good book. My verdict? It’s a great attempt and an impressive debut novel. But if this book were a real, living, breathing teenager, she’d be that annoying, smarty pants. I enjoyed some parts of the book but, like I said, I almost lost my patience waiting for the moments where I truly loved it. Problem is, not many people have the time and luxury for that.
I won’t recommend or not recommend the book to anyone. I’ll just leave you with a few opinions on the book, so that you can decide for yourself:
The voice of the narrator certainly is consistent–no noun goes unmodified, no concept goes unexplained, no scene lacks in detail (e.g., I’m sure the narrator wouldn’t eat ‘a hotdog’ but ‘a Kahns premium twelve inch hotdog with a whole wheat bun, Heinz Ketchup, yellow mustard with just a smidgen of that relish that you buy on the third shelf of the Krogers with the vibrant green sheen and well blended texture.”) Drives me crazy.
Part of me is tempted to give “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” 3 stars, but that would give the impression that I found it mediocre and passionless. On the contrary, part of me loved the book to 5 stars, but the excessive loquatiousness of the narrator’s expression nearly drove me to distraction. So my mathematical reducion will stay at 4 stars, with reservations explained. By Chapter 8 I was still not engaged enough to convince me that I was going to actually read the whole book. But by the end I stayed awake reading as late as I could one night, and stole away enough time the next day to finish it. Reading this story was like running a reverse marathon that started out as a meandering stroll and ended in a sprint.
And when I say marathon, I mean marathon. Most reviewers have noted the length of the book, weighing in at over 500 pages. Individual sentences stretched on and on with strange metaphors, literary allusions and references, and parenthetical comments galore. Much of it was dense academic blathering–in character, to be sure, but still very annoying to read. Oftentimes I’d find myself strugging with a long sentence, breathlessly awaiting a period like a drowing person begging for someone to throw her a life preserver. If you can get through this style of writing, there is a compelling story waiting to be decoded, but this book won’t be for everyone. Though I felt like I was cheating a bit, after the first half of the story I gave myself permission to give up on close textual analysis and read like a skipping stone. The author’s pacing picked up in the later stages of the book as well, but as a reader I did make a conscious choice to step in as an editor.
If you still think you’d enjoy the book, I’d say stop reading the reviews and just go read it.