Cases Against Perfection

Exhibit 11.7

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

The best thing I can say about the book is that the author’s talent and intelligence is so apparent on every page that even though I didn’t particularly like it–and at times loathed it intensely–I would not at all hesitate to pick up Pessl’s next book. Some first novels read as culminations of every story, love, and simile an author has available to them, removing any need to read the next and the next and the next increasingly disappointing book. Others, like this one, seem to be the tortured beginning of something greater.

I don’t really want to get into the specifics of what I found problematic about the book, mostly because doing so would necessarily contain spoilers. I will say that it’s the sort of novel where 400 pages into a 500 page book the story becomes something completely different, rendering the somewhat tedious previous explorations of an ultimately unimportant social scene useless. The sort of book where every character is unlikeable yet unchanging. The sort of book where a character literally makes one phone call and the person who answers gladly sends her the solution to the mystery. The sort of book that ends with a character taking a heartbreaking action which they would never take if for no other reason than that it solves none of their problems. The sort of book where anyone paying attention can immediately identify at least 8 reasons why the plot makes no sense (#4: Knowing all the connections, why did they move to the town at all?). The sort of book with an awesome title made silly because it is completely arbitrary.

(I mean, there’s not even a little Calamity Physics here. What the hell? I came for the Calamity Physics).

Despite these failings, it does become completely gripping in its jarring, incohesive second half. Between the exaggerated take on prep school that dominates the beginning and the murder mystery that drives the conclusion, there were probably two good books to choose from here but forced together each half renders the other inert. Compared to The Secret History–which this book owes a large debt to–none of the characters here use the tragedy to expose their true selves or cast accusations or make tough choices. Instead they complain or run away but that’s okay because–and this is what got me–none of them are suspects or, outside of the narrator, in any way driven to find the truth. By the time the book gets around to ending, we’ve got new problems.

Mostly it’s disappointing because there’s so much good and new about the style of the book and it seems like that could have been put to a greater end. Or maybe I’m wrong. Know that a great number of people a lot smarter than me–including the person who recommended it–loved it. I can see why it would be an easy book to forgive.

Comment / Posted in Books, Cases Against Perfection, Fiction

Exhibit 9.25

I’ve never been good at, nor do I particularly like, taking pictures. Thankfully I wasn’t often behind the camera this past weekend so it gave me plenty of time to practice my smirk.

Yeah, that’s a good one.

I actually had to crop myself out of this picture. Given the angles, there’s no way they could have seen the absurd look on my face, but I’m pretty sure everyone in this picture was laughing at me anyway.

I’m related to all of those people.

This is actually from a different day. I dress like this all the time, incidentally.


Comment / Posted in Cases Against Perfection, Grandmas, Weekends

Exhibit 4.7

Some actual lines from a book on Hypno Writing that found its way onto my desk:

  • “Here’s my famous letter…it’s considered Hypno Writing at its best. Later on you’ll get to analyze this letter, but for now, just copy it in your own handwriting. Exercise: Copy this letter in your own handwriting.”
  • “When you use similes, you can make your own words ‘fall softly as rose petals,’ ‘gush out like toothpaste,’ ‘string and creep like insects!'” [Ed note: Thanks to the book Hypno Editing, I was able to spot the typo in ‘string’. Or maybe he was referring to the Western String Beetle.]
  • “Also within you is a wiser part called Self Two, the Master.”
  • “My biggest secret: I DON’T DO THE WRITING! Shocked? What I mean is, I command or request the writing from my unconscious.”
  • “Studies show that the postscript is the most often read part of any letter.”
  • “The truth is, I did not have a fight with my neighbor.”
  • “Well, let me blow your mind. Is the image moving? Actually, it’s not moving at all.”
  • “These writers are ‘vegetarians’ because their writing lacks meat.”
  • “There is a subtle link connecting your brain with your hand that enables you to convey what you see…”
  • “What? A case against perfection? Again, I’m not urging you to crank out crap.”
  • “On the blog, I placed an actual picture of Lindsey Lohan, which helped people pay attention to my writing.”
  • “I now own those automatons.” [Ed note: Against all odds, this is referring to actual mechanical automatons.]

There is a sentence like these on every page.

Comment / Posted in Automatons, Bad Ideas, Cases Against Perfection