Mojo Mom book club: Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics has worked its way into my brain like no other novel I've read in a long time. I had my issues with the book, as I wrote about in my thorough review Writing the review wasn't enough to get the book out of my mind. If you sift through the verbiage, at the heart of the novel is a mystery that remains unsolved--who killed Hannah Schneider?
If I were Stephen Colbert, this is where I would turn to a new camera, take off my glasses, stare intently and say "Unsolved...or is it?" The beauty of STCP is that the core of the mystery is unarticulated by Blue, the narrator, but solvable by the reader. Or several readers putting their heads together. Yesterday I read an article about Marisha Pessl in The New York Times [Times Select] in which she said that she was inspired by the unreliable narrator in Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess."
I had never read the poem, so I looked it up and reading it gave me more food for thought. It's as though I can finally appreciate all the literary ideas that my AP English teacher, Mr. Frietag, tried to get us interested in 20 years ago. In our senior year of high school we read Daisy Miller by Henry James, and Mr. Frietag tried to get us to understand the symbolism and concrete detail that led to the conclusion that Daisy was innocent, though uncultured. Back then I could not grasp the concept of reading a book in any way other than a literal interpretation (too many formulaic, cut-and-dried Nancy Drew books in my background, I am afraid). But now I am thrilled to find a book that challenges the reader to put together the pieces that the book's narrator can't asseble for herself.
If you are going to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics I encourage you to go in knowing as little about it as possible. To facilitate a spoiler-iffic book club discussion for those who have read it, I will post my own hypothesis in the comments section. I have not sought out any other reader dicussion forums or input prior to writing this, though I may link to other discussions after I've put down my own initial ideas.
If we get a good discussion going, perhaps I can entice Marisha Pessl to do an interview for The Mojo Mom Podcast.
So go read the book and please post your reactions and ideas in the comments section. (I know it's hardcover but aren't you worth it?) Let's use this discussion to focus on figuring out what really happened, rather than our reviews. Maybe together we can figure out what really happened between Blue, Hannah, and Gareth.