Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

This book, like Eat, Pray, Love is everywhere. People on the bus are reading it, folks at work are carrying it around in their bags, bookstores have it on the shelf of staff favorites. The New York Times rated it one of the ten best books of the year - how could we not read it?

STiCP is a clever novel about a girl, a smart girl in her final year of high school. This description sounds trite compared to the intricate plot the author tries to weave for us. A plot that contains murder, suggestions of inappropriate teacher / student relationships, lies, horrors of high school boys kissing and telling and worst of all...trying to make friends in a small town school.

The author was able to capture with acute accuracy some of the social inner workings of high schoolers. Our heroine, Blue, has a connection with a boy in her circle of kind-of-friends which he not only denies, but mocks in a public forum as a way to keep the social stigma is hanging over her squarely off him. This small and not important scene has played out in high schools and junior high schools forever, and the author uses it as a way to show just how important not being the outcast is.

STiCP is filled with flawed and unflattering characters. Even our heroine is not without an irritating trait. Marisha Pessl (the author) uses a device to show us how smart and clever Blue is. All throughout the book as Blue is narrating her story she adds annotations and references to help us better understand her story. This device gets old (see your kid asking you "Are we there yet?" for the 90th time in an hour.) Some are quite funny, but mostly they are over used and quickly ignored.

Pessl does foreshadowing well, giving us snippets of events that appear to be one thing but after we are clued in to reality are definitely something different. Some of those nuances were missed by a few of our readers, who are very bright and because of that we (I) believe that STiCP is one of those books that is better after discussing it with others.

STiCP wraps plot points up quite neatly, maybe too much so, and even though we have had almost 400 pages of evidence that Blue is bright, her great epiphany doesn't completely ring true. This reader suspects that no kid, no matter how bright could pull all the given clues together and end up with the masterful conclusions attributed to our hero.

Next book... a non-historical, non-fiction. Having had some serious issues with some of the novels we've been reading lately we're taking a break from fiction. We'll be back in April! See you then.