Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Hmmmmm….that’s my overarching comment on my most recent read, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I was intrigued with this book after reading a writeup which detailed the author’s experiences living in London while writing the novel and her pitch to her eventual agent: “It is a first novel unlike any you will read this year,” she wrote, “a funny, encyclopedic and wildly ambitious literary tale about love and loss, youth and yearning, treachery and terror.”

Blue van Meer, the sixteen-year-old narrator, definitely lives up to the descriptors “encyclopedic” and “literary.” An only child, raised by her professor father after her mother’s death in a car accident, Blue is a walking reference book for an never-ending variety of literary works. Her writing is punctuated by the parenthetical references to famous quotations, books, and historical events. I found this to be rather tedious at times, and I’ll admit to skimming portions of pages looking for the actual plot. Too often it appears the author is most interested in demonstrating how much she herself has learned in her time at Barnard College. It’s also evidently designed to make the reader feel smart for being “in the know” upon recognizing the references, which are often tongue in cheek. I studied English and history as an undergrad and got most, though definitely not all, of the references, but when Adventure Guy, the engineer, asked if I thought he’d like it, I had to say “probably not.”

The first three quarters of the book deals with Blue’s move to a new town for her senior year and her efforts to fit in with the in crowd. Here, this novel follows much of the usual coming of age storyline. The plot shifts, however, when two mysterious deaths lead Blue to investigate not only the events leading up to these events but also how they relate to her own past. I found the mystery portion of the novel a much more interesting read than the earlier portion. The novel comes to a fairly abrupt end, though, leaving me with a sense of wanting to know more and the thought that perhaps things were tied up a bit too neatly in some of the plot lines. One of the most interesting things about this novel, in light of the fact that I’ve now begun this blogging journey, is the opening lines of the introduction. “Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it. ‘Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, Che Guevara or Bond–James Bond–you best spend your free time finger painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and a mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began–with a wheeze.’ ”
Well, haven’t we all proved Dr. van Meer wrong! Thanks to all the authors out there of the blogs I read for allowing me to share in the details of your Life Stories and thanks for taking time to read a little bit of mine.


Filed under What I'm Reading

2 responses to “Special Topics in Calamity Physics

  1. Alto2

    So, do you recommend this book or not? It’s high on my list of books to read, but you’re not giving it a rave review.

  2. LSM

    Actually, I’m glad I read it, and I did enjoy it. I just found the constant referencing to be a bit distracting to the plot and the first portion of the book was slow in comparison to the mystery portion at the end. It’s certainly worth a read, though!

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