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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *