My Semi-Fictional Life #41 (A Review)

Good morning, peeps. I’m exhausted and I still have writing to catch up on. My NaNoWriMo project is in the bin. Nothing wrong with it, per se, but I’ve told this story before, so into the trunk it goes. Rest in Peace PLATFORM. May you someday see a revival.

Now I have a serious task ahead of me. I’m going to try (and likely fail) to write a completely different novel (or at the very least 50,000 words of it) before December 1st. I have the story in my mind from beginning to end or else I wouldn’t even attempt this. I’ll post updates whenever I can. Let’s see how I do.

Now for a review. This one is a mite personal.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

Five Stars

Let’s get my one and only complaint about the book out of the way.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is hard to get into. I started it numerous times it, but it kept losing my attention. Then my good friend Thomas Stromquist mentioned it was on his TBR, so we gave it the old buddy-read try and I finally got past the first 50 pages. It wasn’t until Blue met Hannah that the story grabbed me. That is not to say that the opening pages are unneeded. The exact opposite is true. Everything here comes together to create a tremendous literary achievement. But it’s a bit like Peter Straub’s Ghost Story in that it takes a while to get going. Once it did grab me, I never wanted to put it down.

Unfortunately, my experience with this wonderful book will forever be marred by a dark time in American history, when a court jester took over the Kingdom, when hate and anger won out over logic and progress, when a quarter of America chose the rewind button over the pause button. Would Clinton have moved us forward? Probably not. She was as much of a part of the oligarchy and white America as Trump, but she certainly wouldn’t have sent us back to the age of Jim Crow by promoting the gloating, gleeful hatred we’re seeing now.

In a way, I feel like Blue felt toward the end of this book; abandoned and forgotten. To witness the results of Election Day 2016 and see that 42.4% of American citizens decided to stay home and allow a sexist, racist, xenophobic, sexual predator to win the office of Commander and Chief of the one of the greatest superpowers on Earth is surreal. We’re the laughing stock of the free world and for good reason. For fuck’s sake, only 58.6% of Americans could even be bothered to vote.

So, I suppose, Special Topics in Calamity Physics was an apt novel to read during this unruly time in American politics. The topic of uncertainty plays as big of a part in the novel as it now does in America’s future. Both see the ruin of intelligent people. Both deal with habitual liars and human beings being terrible to one another.

Yeah, man, I couldn’t have read a better (worse?) book around this time of year.

Will you like Special Topics in Calamity Physics? I’m gonna say, probably not. If you didn’t like Pessl’s sophomore effort Night Film, you’ll likely not like this one. Even though the two books couldn’t be more different in tone, they both take a considerable amount of effort to understand and propose more questions than Pessl gives outright answers to. I, however, loved both books. I especially dig that Pessl doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. I like having to figure things out on my own. As long as there’s enough information for me to puzzle piece everything together, I’m happy, and that’s exactly what this book offers.

I feel the need to clarify something though. There is a difference between an author giving zero answers and readers being able to have more than one right answer. Dig it: The bible can be read by a hundred people and each person will have a different experience because that book is full of allegory and metaphor. There is no one right answer. This is why so many people believe it to be the work of a higher power, because they cannot grasp the concept that a human being can create something so intricate and multifaceted. But authors like Pessl show us that it is possible for a human being to master the artform that is allegory. Luckily for readers everywhere, Pessl’s novels are far more lucid and cogent than any book of the bible. They are far more realistic as well.

I am in awe, yet again, at how many story threads and intricate details Marisha Pessl is able to juggle while keeping her narrative engaging. The openness of the mystery was a breath of fresh air when compared to the heavy-handed, spoon-fed denouements I’ve grown accustomed to receiving in modern thrillers. This isn’t James Patterson or Dan Brown. This is a smart, well-written mystery while loads of heart.

Speaking of heart, I want to get even more personal with this review. There’s a scene in this book where Blue is betrayed by someone she’s just been intimate with. This scene hit me hard because much the same thing happened to me in high school. I was a football player and relatively popular for being a fat kid. I still got picked on quite a bit, but a lot of people liked me because I carried around a gives-no-fucks attitude. I learned at a really early age not to give a flying fuck what other people thought about me. What everyone else thinks about me is none of my business. Well, this confidence attracted a girl by the name of Jill. Jill was a smaller girl, on the thin side, not really someone I thought would ever be interested in me, because everyone else thought she was super hot. And, I’ll be damned, Jill and I ended up hooking up. We fucked quite a bit over the course of four days. I thought I was in love, and she kept coming back for more, so I must’ve been doing something right. That is until someone found out about us and she denied everything. Denied even knowing me. Even when people came forward and said they’d seen us together, she called them a liar. I never once bragged about those four days we screwed around together, but she outright refused to even admit she’d so much as hung out with me. I didn’t care if anyone knew about us fucking, but it hurt that she would pretend like I meant nothing to her because she was scared people would think less of her for so much as knowing me. Hell, maybe I never did mean anything to her. I’ll never know.

Anyway, yeah, that scene tore my heart out and crushed it under a boot heel. That shit hurt, yo.

In summation: Sorry that this is less of a review and more of a diatribe, but my reviews have always been personal things. Also, my reviews will always be for me first. I like being able to look back on my reviews and see what I was like or what the state of the world was like while I was reading. I fucking hate that this election was a blight on an otherwise fantastic book and that, from here on out, any time I see Special Topics in Calamity Physics sitting on my bookshelf, I will see the gloating face of America’s broken education system and tl;dr crowd.

Final Judgment: A brilliantly and beautifully constructed and impeccably delivered novel by one of my newest favorite authors.

And that’s it.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

E.

Pic of the Day

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3 thoughts on “My Semi-Fictional Life #41 (A Review)

  1. Great review! I have NIGHT FILM in the queue. Hope to read it before January.

    By the way… I had dream last night I was reading BAY’S END. Weird, right? Guess that’s a sign that I need to read it soon. Haha!

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