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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by

Special Topics in Calamity Physics Cover

ISBN13: 9780143112129
ISBN10: 0143112120
Condition: Standard
All Product Details

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Staff Pick

What begins as an innocent (if quirky) adolescent tale swiftly transforms into an absorbing high school whodunit. If I had to compare it to a few recent films, it manages to come across both as gritty as Brick and as refreshing as Juno, but with a healthy amount of vintage Gothic inspiration threading its way through the story as well. That tightrope walk of pathos and preciousness has never been navigated so confidently.
Recommended by Nathan W., Powells.com

Suspenseful, dark, and extremely funny, Marisha Pessl's debut novel is an impressive feat indeed. Blue van Meer is one of the most intelligent and awkward teenage protagonists in recent years, and her story — which manages to be both a murder mystery and a coming-of-age exploration — is intensely literary (and packed with allusions), as well as emotionally honest and genuinely moving. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is diabolically clever, and a challenging and rewarding read.
Recommended by Tessa, Powells.com

Review-A-Day

"Chutzpah, Marisha Pessl has — and in abundance. [A] thoroughly impressive debut....Fans of Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and those who enjoyed the footnotes in Susannah Clarke's fabulous Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as much as the plot, head for the bookstore with all speed. If you prefer a more Shaker-like type of storytelling, devoid of verbal curlicues and ironic flourishes, you might want to drop out of this particular class." Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

This mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a darkly hilarious coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge — and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide — or misguide — her.

Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class and containing ironic visual aids (drawn by the author), Pessl's debut novel is complex yet compelling, erudite yet accessible. It combines the suspense of Hitchcock, the self-parody of Dave Eggers, and the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt with a dazzling intelligence and wit entirely Pessl's own.

Review:

"Pessl's stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course — 36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep — that culminates with a final exam. It comes as no surprise, then, that teen narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation that makes Salinger's Seymour Glass look like a dunce. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, embark, in another nod to Nabokov, on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn't bode well for Blue's social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue's senior year, she befriends — sort of — a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place. Like its intriguing main characters, this novel is many things at once — it's a campy, knowing take on the themes that made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"A self-absorbed scholar and a young girl crisscross America by car, flitting through college towns where they endure ill-advised sexual encounters, heartache and a potent dose of popular culture. Studded with ingenious wordplay and recondite allusions, their story veers between highbrow comedy and lowbrow tragedy as it careens toward a couple of ambiguous murders and some crafty detective work.

... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl's tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring." Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

Review:

"Anything familiar about this hip, ambitious and imaginative book is easily overshadowed by its many pleasures....There are many wonderful young writers out there, but it's always refreshing to find another with such confidence, who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform." Los Angeles Times

Review:

"The novel is generating a great deal of buzz that will excite the curiosity of readers who enjoy postmodern excesses and indulgences of this sort." Booklist

Review:

"This blockbuster debut, over 500 pages chock-full of literary and pop cultural references and illustrations by Pessl herself, demands attention." People

Review:

"Witty and exuberant...part road-trip adventure, part idiosyncratic Great Books survey, with dashes of romantic comedy and murder mystery thrown in....Such pyrotechnics place the author alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith." Vogue

Review:

"All the stars seem aligned for the twenty-something author." Time.com

Review:

"Donna Tartt goes postmodern in this eclectically intellectual murder mystery....The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion....Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"The most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated." Janet Maslin, the New York Times

Review:

"Hip, ambitious and imaginative." Los Angeles Times

Synopsis:

Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, this mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction.

Synopsis:

The mesmerizing New York Times bestseller by the author of Night Film

Marisha Pessls dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some—a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel—with visual aids drawn by the author—that has won over readers of all ages.

 

About the Author

Marisha Pessl graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 7 comments:

petergrantgioia, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by petergrantgioia)
A delight.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
shmoo, July 22, 2010 (view all comments by shmoo)
If you happen to like gimmicks, then buy this book. Personally, I don't. I actually liked (not loved) this book at the beginning. But the kooky and unpredictable decay into postmodern whodunnit to me is Pessl's dodging responsibility to the story and its characters. Sorry to say it ruined the story for me.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
rusty97015, June 30, 2010 (view all comments by rusty97015)
Ugh. I hate writing negatively about a book. But, this is one of the rare books where I feel compelled to do so. The topic (teen-angst-ridden-girl) is a rich field to be mined. But, for the love of all that is bibliographically holy, this book is dripping with excessive adjectives. Sometimes, I only need to know that the car is blue. I don't need to know that it is the azure blue of Meditteranean coastal waters on a mid-afternoon in Spain five days after a lunar eclipse (alright, she didn't actually write that, but this is similar to the type of descriptions on page after page). Seriously, if you want a heavy read, this book is for you. Otherwise, go for something more fun. On the bright side, this is the first book in many years that gave me the freedom to stop reading half-way through without finishing.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 7 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780143112129
Author:
Pessl, Marisha
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Subject:
Humorous
Subject:
Suspense
Subject:
Mystery fiction
Subject:
Young women
Subject:
Popular Fiction-Suspense
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
20070531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
b/w illustrations throughout
Pages:
528
Dimensions:
8.44x5.52x1.17 in. 1.03 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Humor » General
Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Suspense

Special Topics in Calamity Physics Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$2.50 In Stock
Product details 528 pages Penguin Books - English 9780143112129 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

What begins as an innocent (if quirky) adolescent tale swiftly transforms into an absorbing high school whodunit. If I had to compare it to a few recent films, it manages to come across both as gritty as Brick and as refreshing as Juno, but with a healthy amount of vintage Gothic inspiration threading its way through the story as well. That tightrope walk of pathos and preciousness has never been navigated so confidently.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Suspenseful, dark, and extremely funny, Marisha Pessl's debut novel is an impressive feat indeed. Blue van Meer is one of the most intelligent and awkward teenage protagonists in recent years, and her story — which manages to be both a murder mystery and a coming-of-age exploration — is intensely literary (and packed with allusions), as well as emotionally honest and genuinely moving. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is diabolically clever, and a challenging and rewarding read.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Pessl's stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course — 36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep — that culminates with a final exam. It comes as no surprise, then, that teen narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation that makes Salinger's Seymour Glass look like a dunce. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, embark, in another nod to Nabokov, on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn't bode well for Blue's social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue's senior year, she befriends — sort of — a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place. Like its intriguing main characters, this novel is many things at once — it's a campy, knowing take on the themes that made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Chutzpah, Marisha Pessl has — and in abundance. [A] thoroughly impressive debut....Fans of Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and those who enjoyed the footnotes in Susannah Clarke's fabulous Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as much as the plot, head for the bookstore with all speed. If you prefer a more Shaker-like type of storytelling, devoid of verbal curlicues and ironic flourishes, you might want to drop out of this particular class." (read the entire CSM review)
"Review" by , "The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl's tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring."
"Review" by , "Anything familiar about this hip, ambitious and imaginative book is easily overshadowed by its many pleasures....There are many wonderful young writers out there, but it's always refreshing to find another with such confidence, who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform."
"Review" by , "The novel is generating a great deal of buzz that will excite the curiosity of readers who enjoy postmodern excesses and indulgences of this sort."
"Review" by , "This blockbuster debut, over 500 pages chock-full of literary and pop cultural references and illustrations by Pessl herself, demands attention."
"Review" by , "Witty and exuberant...part road-trip adventure, part idiosyncratic Great Books survey, with dashes of romantic comedy and murder mystery thrown in....Such pyrotechnics place the author alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith."
"Review" by , "All the stars seem aligned for the twenty-something author."
"Review" by , "Donna Tartt goes postmodern in this eclectically intellectual murder mystery....The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion....Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded."
"Review" by , "The most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated."
"Review" by , "Hip, ambitious and imaginative."
"Synopsis" by , Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, this mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction.
"Synopsis" by ,
The mesmerizing New York Times bestseller by the author of Night Film

Marisha Pessls dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some—a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel—with visual aids drawn by the author—that has won over readers of all ages.

 

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