SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessl: Read This If

How could you not be compelled to pick up a novel entitled Special Topics in Calamity Physics? That’s definitely what first peaked my interest. STCP (I seem to have a strong penchant for acronymizing all long titles lately, for brevity’s sake, of which, of course, I’ve just defeated the purpose with this wickedly long parenthetical) by Marisha Pessl is one of the cleverest books I’ve read in a while, which both bolstered and hindered my overall enjoyment of the story. Sometimes the cleverness just took on a life – and trajectory – of its own, wandering through mazes of tangential paths of wit and whimsy without a a mere thought of finding its way back to a narrative flow.

It must be noted that I listened to the audio for this one, which was delightfully performed by Emily Janice Card – she managed to breathe much life into the (often annotated) asides and clever comparisons that conspicuously peppered the narrative, but obviously, that makes it hard to skim over the (what some might consider) somewhat superfluous text, and even if I had been reading with my eyes and not my ears, such skimming would lead to confusion because sandwiched in the middle of the random book titles and oddball similes, an important plot point inevitably could be found.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the story – I did, in fact, in the end, appreciate much of what amused me in the beginning and annoyed me in the middle. Blue van Meer made for quite the quirky, smartypants heroine, with an equally quirky upbringing and smartypants father. After moving around the country every semester or two, they settle – for a whole 8 months – in a small town in North Carolina for Blue’s senior year, where she is thrust unwittingly and unwillingly into a strange group of misfits (she – or the entire population of the school – calls them the Bluebloods) by an idiosyncratic teacher she meets in the grocery store. Many of the eccentricities later come into play after a series of mysterious events culminate in Part 3 – the partial wrapping together of these elements without tying them together with a neat little bow more than made up for the meandering nature of Parts 1 and 2.

You really should check out STCP if:
  • You’ve been longing for a story of the high school experience told with the nuance and insight of a John Hughes movie.
  • You like a little mystery to go with your high school shenanigans.
  • You don’t mind a book that sticks the song “Somebody’s Watching Me” in your head on autorepeat.
  • You like clever. No, you lurvvve clever.
  • You like big books and you cannot lie.
  • You want to torture or confound (or spark much discussion in) your book club.
You should take a pass on STCP if:
  • You’re not a fan of lots of references you may or may not get.
  • You like your plots to move quickly, without fluff.
  • You really do need your plots wrapped together in the end with a shiny bow, no crinkles or loose threads to speak of. 
  • You value brevity over feats of literary (and often long-winded) wit.
  • You have the attention span of a gnat.
If anyone’s read this & feels like discussing at all, let me know. It’s definitely a discussion-worthy one.