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Special Topics in Calamity Physics | [Marisha Pessl]

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

This 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 spent moving from one academic outpost to another with her father, Blue is clever and possessed of a vast lexicon of knowledge. But when a drowning and the shocking death of a teacher 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.
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Publisher's Summary

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 spent 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 she 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, 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.

©2006 Marisha Pessl; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.

What the Critics Say

"A stunning debut...a wry send up of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity." (Publishers Weekly)
"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)
"Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated...A whirling, glittering, multifaceted marvel, delivered in an irrepressibly smart and flamboyant new voice...Q: Is Special Topics in Calamity Physics required reading for devotees of inventive new fiction? A: Yes." (The New York Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (607 )
5 star
 (197)
4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Overall
3.8 (238 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Story
4.1 (233 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Jeanie Hendersonville, TN, USA 01-12-07
    Jeanie Hendersonville, TN, USA 01-12-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    63
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    3
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    1
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    "Over 21 Hours of Bliss..."

    It's hard to believe that after over 21 hours of listening to this story, I didn't want it to end. The prologue threw me at first. It's a bit confusing and wordy, but once you get into the first chapter you'll be hooked. It was at times hilariously funny and other times deeply poignant, and as I stated above... I didn't want it to end. Blue van Meer is an all-time original and one of those fictional characters that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The book is an amazing piece of work, and I cannot praise or recommend it enough.

    55 of 55 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Brooklyn, NY, USA 02-23-07
    Karen Brooklyn, NY, USA 02-23-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    15
    ratings
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    13
    5
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    0
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    Overall
    "Several stories in one"

    Listening to this book was a strange experience. For the first third, I have to admit that I just tolerated it. Although the narrator had a wonderful voice when speaking from the perspective of the young girl, I found the portrayal/voice of her father somewhat grating. Throughout, I found that the 'footnotes,' referencing literary works, were distracting for an audiobook, even though I probably would have enjoyed them in written form. Nevertheless, by the second third of the book, I was drawn in to the main character and her quirky band of friends, really caring about all of them. Strangely, the last third of the book switches tone quite a bit, becoming almost a mystery, which the main character strives to solve.
    Ultimately, very satisfying and engaging, but --if you find yourself, like me, somewhat disinterested at the beginning-- hang in there. It gets more engaging over time.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Scottsdale, Azerbaijan 01-25-07
    David Scottsdale, Azerbaijan 01-25-07 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
    ratings
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    1
    1
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    "Extraordinary"

    Like the first reviewer above I was sorry to have this one end. The plot while not silly is pretty farfetched, but it is the language, literary allusions and outrageous metaphors that make the book so compelling. If this doesn't interest you, then buy a different book.

    I think Ms Card deserves 5 stars. She captures the sound of todays young women, and makes the narrator seem real. The story is entirely 1st person, (the reader only knows what the narrator knows) so the various characters have to be heard through her ears.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aeirlys Los Angeles-ish 07-04-09
    Aeirlys Los Angeles-ish 07-04-09 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    22
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    348
    2
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    0
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    Overall
    "Slow Burn"

    I loved this book, but I understand the criticisms in other reviews. It's written in the first person, and the narrator, a 17 year old show off, takes a bit of getting used to. Ms. Card's treatment of the text is pitch perfect and goes a long way toward making the very stylized prose manageable.

    I suspect this is a book you have to listen to twice. The first two thirds of the book feel like pure atmosphere, until you hit the last straightaway and suddenly everything that went before becomes critical to the most minute detail. If you give up before things start making sense, you're not going to like it.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shopper1844 09-27-07
    Shopper1844 09-27-07 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    83
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    357
    9
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    2
    0
    Overall
    "Loved it or Hated it"

    This is either a "loved it/hated it" novel. Personally, I hated it. But I listened to the whole book because I am basically an optimist and I paid for it.

    I was unaware of the controvery regarding the size of Ms. Pessl's advance or of her pleasing physical attributes so I was spared starting off with any prejudice. I formed my opinions before I searched for reviews and photos.

    If one wants to drown in a sea, no, vast ocean of analogies, this is the book for you. I love a good simile or metaphor, figures of speech that stimulate the imagination and create the picture that is "worth a thousand words." They don't have to be beautiful, soothing, comfortable. Just check out Annie Proulx, "Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories." I found hers to be masterful and illuminating. I rate Ms. Pessl's about 50%.

    I could write another 500 words on Ms. Pessl's conceit of constructing this novel as a thesis(a dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view. Merriam-Webster)complete with a final exam. I won't. If I had purchased this book in printed form, I would have skipped over them after the first 50 pages.

    I found the novel, its plot, its characters, its "celebrated" twists and turns pretentious, tedious, annoying AND predictable.

    17 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christel Pasadena, CA, USA 02-08-07
    Christel Pasadena, CA, USA 02-08-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    26
    ratings
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    5
    5
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    1
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    Overall
    "Memorable and Impressive!"

    This is strange, sprawling, and entirely wonderful book, unlike anything I have ever read. Teenage narrator Blue Van Meer begins speaking in a voice so clear and distinctive that for the first hour it's like having someone sit next to you on a bus bench and begin blurting out the most personal details of their life. Don't let the rambling beginning throw you -- you are about to be taken on a meticulouly crafted story of a high school senior in a new school who suddenty and inexplicably finds herself pulled into a popular and snobbish group who are the "teacher's pets" of a glamorous and mysterious film teacher. As the social mores of high school are recalled in painfully focused clarity, a murder mystery abnd the moral dilemma of a lifetime devolve. Long and dense, but you won't be sorry.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin Danvers, MA, USA 10-13-07
    Kevin Danvers, MA, USA 10-13-07 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    1
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    0
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    "I'll give it a second chance"

    I have to admit, I haven't finished this book yet. The first third of this book has been pure tedium, sprinkled with self-important references to other literary possibilities. But, after reading everyone else's review, I'll trudge through it. The first 7 hours could be summarized in about 1 paragraph...maybe even 1 sentence..."Dad and I moved around a lot". There...now you can skip to hour 8, and be pretty well caught up.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia Sutton, MA, USA 03-22-07
    Cynthia Sutton, MA, USA 03-22-07 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    20
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    26
    10
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    0
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    "Sigh, I was with you till the end"

    Nice story, good ride, ending what a let down!
    It was a cheap easy rabbitt out of a hat that just made me feel like the entire book was a wasted trip. It's like driving to Disney from MA and finding its closed. You can think of it as a nice scenic trip, maybe you had some good times, but was it worth it in the end? no.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisa 01-23-07
    Lisa 01-23-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    145
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    335
    8
    FOLLOWERS
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    0
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    Overall
    "Sparkles"

    This is engaging writing. It's complex, full of amusing references all kinds of literary and pop culture allusions and clever metaphors. I didn't find the plot or the characters predictable. But, after feeling so involved in the story, I found the ending unsatisfying, like a helium balloon the day after.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 02-01-07
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 02-01-07 Member Since 2002

    I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3154
    ratings
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    1385
    395
    FOLLOWERS
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    955
    9
    Overall
    "Good book but for young women"

    This is fine book, but would be more interesting for young women than for old men (like me). This would have made a really great short story, although a little unbelievable. The voice of Blue is, by far, the best part of this story. The character was wonderful. The story itself, the literary reference structure, and particularly the ending, I found weak. I think the author has lots of potential. I found the narration excellent.

    21 of 26 people found this review helpful
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