Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Special Topics in Calamity Physics crisscrosses genres, moving from a road trip narrative to a high school exposé and finally concluding with a murder mystery. Narrated from the point of view of a brainy teenaged girl named Blue, the story concerns an elite band of students at St. Gallway High School who eventually embroil her in a couple of mysterious deaths and her father’s disappearance. Using Blue’s quirky voice, Marisha Pessl writes exuberantly, constantly alluding to the literary and cinematic arts and sometimes including her own drawings to serve as visual aids. She also likes to celebrate the academic world, with Gareth van Meer, the main professor, claiming that “there is nothing more arresting than a disciplined course of instruction.”
Instead of the usual table of contents, Pessl arranges the book into a “Core Curriculum (Required Reading)” that designates a classic work of literature for each chapter. Thus, when a mysterious woman, Hannah Schneider, introduces herself to the van Meers, she appears in a chapter titled “The Woman in White.” The chapter in which a large man drowns in a swimming pool is called “Moby Dick.” Instead of a coda, Pessl includes a “Final Exam,” which invites the reader to write out multiple choice and essay answers to major questions that the novel raises. While Special Topics in Calamity Physics sometimes betrays a tendency to lean a little heavily on its influences, notably...
(The entire section is 1680 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Booklist 102, nos. 19/20 (June 1-15, 2006): 39-40.
The Christian Science Monitor, August 8, 2006, p. 14.
Entertainment Weekly, nos. 891/892 (August 18, 2006): 140.
Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 11 (June 1, 2006): 541.
London Review of Books 28, no. 18 (September 21, 2006): 22-23.
The New York Times 155 (July 31, 2006): E6.
The New York Times Book Review 155 (August 13, 2006): 1-9.
Publishers Weekly 253, no. 21 (May 22, 2006): 27.
Sunday Times, September 24, 2006, p. 54.
The Washington Post Book World, October 8, 2006, p. 6.
(The entire section is 55 words.)