SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessl (Viking), 514 pages, $34 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
The book blogs were abuzz with suspicion about the striking author pic of new novelist Marisha Pessl. But Special Topics In Calamity Physics is a joyous, suspenseful, witty and developed work, and would be if it had been written by someone who hadn't fared so well in the genetic splendour lottery.
Blue is a socially stunted, overly annotating and erudite teenager who's been towed around the country (39 towns in 33 states) by her touring professor dad since her mother's accidental death when Blue was five.
Blue gets to settle into an elite school in North Carolina, finally able to make friends, and has a chance to join the Bluebloods - a hotshot ensemble of over-privileged eccentric teens - who invite Blue in. They're all obsessed with a mysterious film teacher, the sultry Hanna Schneider, who's overly friendly with kids half her age.
With a cultural frame of reference as vast as the ocean, Blue tells her suspenseful story through chapters named after classic works of literature. She cites literary or historical sources after most of her own thoughts, some of them true citations and some creative untruths. Her cluttered and fanciful narration is consistently wry, witty and plausible. Blue remains an adolescent, experiencing the first drinks and sloppy kisses, despite her unconventionally bookish outlook.
Special Topics In Calamity Physics is a terribly fun and gripping mystery, worth the time it takes to absorb every tiny annotated detail.