2007: 61. Special Topics in Calamity Physics

“Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it.”

Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marianne Pessl

I loved this book.  This is exactly the kind of book that I love, so it was not a surprise that I loved it, but there you are.  It had geeky erudite characters, a twisty mystery plot and a cool collected narrator.  It struck me when I was reading it that this was an E.L. Konigsburg book for grown ups - all the way down to the shaded pencil line drawings.  I would bet a million bucks that Pessl was influenced by The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Up From Jerico Tel, The Second Mrs. Giaconda et al.  The book (though concerned with adult topics like sex and politics) has the same tone Konigsburg’s - particularly in the cool seemingly collected tone of the narrator.  Since Konisgburg was one of my favorite authors growing up, I naturally approve.

This book tells the story of Blue van Meer, who lives with her academic father.  After years roaming the lesser educational institutes of the country, they settle for her senior year in North Carolina.  There, at St. Gallway High School, she falls in with an unusual teacher, and the cabal of students that surround her.  Things go well for a while, and then it all falls apart when the teacher is murdered, and Blue is left trying to figure out what happened (N.B. - The Secret History is another obvious influence here).  The story is great and detailed and the solution to the mystery both satisfying and poignant.  Most of all, Blue is a grand character - real, and flawed and interesting.  My only complaint was that (like so many books these days), the leisurely premise is somewhat rushed in the ending - but maybe that is just because I didn’t want the book to end!

Recommended for:  People who liked Konigsburg (or The Secret History);  people who like stories about brainy girls figuring things out.


Date/Place Completed:  4/29/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Book Club

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017