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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Marisha Pessel
Viking Press
Publish date: 2006-01-01


"'All worthwhile tales possess some element of violence,' Dad said." From the very beginning of Marisha Pessel's novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Blue Van Meer, a senior in high school, depicts the growing feeling of a coming disaster as she comes in contact with Hannah Schneider and a clique of students at the elite St. Galloway High School. Blue had spent the majority of her life on an odyssey with her father Gareth after the death of her mother. He attempted to keep their lives interesting, telling Blue repeatedly that, "everyone is responsible for the page-turning tempo of his or her own Life Story." They traveled around the country from university to university reading biographies, quoting Emerson, studying Shakespeare, and analyzing everything and everyone around them.

The first time Hannah Schneider sees Blue in the frozen meat section of the local grocery store, she sees "a lonely person." Driven by an obsession with reaching out to those she categorizes as missing, hurting, or incomplete in society she does everything possible to intertwine Blue into the group of students she spends every Sunday with. They include Jade, Milton, Nigel, Lu, and Charles. The students are charismatically drawn to Hannah as they try to determine what makes her tick. Whenever Hannah is involved in something, strange things happen: a mysterious drowning, an empty bedroom, irrational haircuts, boxes full of missing person articles, snappy monologues, and endless questions.

The novel is centered on the compulsion of human beings to explain the unexplainable and the search for one's identity. Pessel organizes the novel like a college literature course, with chapters named Deliverance, Wuthering Heights, etc. With witty pros, hilarious allusions, and captivatingly developed relationships Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a thought provoking, entertaining, and worthwhile read.