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Rarely There

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Monday, April 23, 2007

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.
... for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence...

That's how this book starts: stark statements with fresh, clever, unassumingly witty hyperboles.
I recall, too, how our house, once cumbersome and wheezing as a rheumatoid aunt, seemed tense and restrained without my mother...
However, the same exaggerated descriptions started becoming tedious, fading to droll, distracting, almost annoying narrative.

Having said that, I have to freely admit, this is a wonderful debut book. While there is a lot of speculation about whether the author Marisha Pessl's potentially drool-worthy publicity photos and background was more responsible for the success of this book, I have to concede that I would have liked this book just as much even if she did not come with such an admirable baggage (graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University).

The story is narrated by Blue, whom I got to know a lot even if the story was not advancing much. Blue is not quite a misfit, but, is not somebody I can easily find myself being friends with. Besides, she is only in her late teens when the story unfolds.

Blue's dad Gareth van Meer, a charming, albeit wandering, political-science professor, is described as someone who picks up "women the way certain wool pants can't help but pick up lint"; and he happens to be a big influence on her. Blue is well-read, almost too well-read, and it shows in her attitude, in the bibliographical references and cross-references she feels compelled to make, and in her personality.

The story is a high-school murder mystery that doesn't gain momentum until page 300 or so of the 500+ page book. Pessl has done some illustrations, [Visual Aids] as Blue notes, in this book. I am not sure if they enhance the narration in any way.

Blue is shunted around while growing up, and finally ends up at St. Gallway, a private school in North Carolina, where she is absorbed into a rather odd clique of kids known as the Bluebloods, made up of Milton, Charles, Leulah, Jade, and, of course, Blue. The leader of this bizarre circle of delinquents happens to be a young and enigmatic film teacher, Hannah Schneider.

Once the story takes off, it is quite engaging. And the last chapter is a Final Exam, with true/false, multiple choice and essay questions.

The book is incredibly refreshing - maybe it is just me, I have not come across such an original style in recent past. I would've preferred the style in smaller doses, though.

I am not the kind who venerates a book or an author. Either I like their work or I don't. Either I get it or I don't. Either it lingers and influences my thinking or just fades in my memory. Either it just fascinates me or plain annoys me.

There are very few books I've read so far that have failed to evoke any kind of emotion in me, simply made no impression whatsoever. This book is not one of them.

This book should remain one of a kind, as I don't think I can handle or appreciate another of its kind. However, having established that, I have to confess that I have started reading this book again. I rarely ever read the same book back to back. Since the wordiness was a distraction in the initial read, and since I really liked the way the clues were masterfully woven in, and since I do find this book quite smart and worth my time, I am willing to give it a second go. Perhaps after my second read I can come back here edit my thoughts...

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Blogger scribbit said...

I'd never heard of this one, thanks for the review.

10:12 AM  

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