SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessl

SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS

KIRKUS REVIEW

Donna Tartt goes postmodern in this eclectically intellectual murder mystery.

Blue van Meer, daughter of a womanizing widower, has spent her entire life following her erudite father on six-month stints to the small posts he chooses at obscure universities. During her senior year in high school, though, she convinces him to let her stay put for the entire academic year, which she will spend at the St. Gallway School in Stockton, N.C. There, while immediately proving her academic prowess by besting the presumed valedictorian, she also finds herself courted by an intriguing faculty member, Hannah Schneider, and is reluctantly accepted into her group of student followers: Milton, Charles, Leulah and Jade, each of whom seems to be hiding something about their past. The group meets at Hannah’s every Sunday for international cuisine and intellectual banter, and soon Blue is also going on social excursions with the girls and secretly lusting after Milton. Things go awry when Blue and her compatriots break into Hannah’s house and witness the mysterious drowning of one of Hannah’s friends. The drowning becomes a rallying cry for the group to find out more about their teacher’s secret life. The plot thickens again when Hannah herself dies, leaving Blue to put the pieces together and determine the truth. Who was Hannah Schneider really? What was the nature of her various relationships? And why did she welcome Blue into her clique so readily? The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion. But while even the gimmicks work well (chapters are structured like a literature syllabus; hand-drawn visual aids appear throughout), they don’t compensate for the fact that The Secret History came first.

Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2006
ISBN: 0-670-03777-X
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2006




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