January 9, 2009

Special Topics in Calamity Physics ***

*** Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl, 2008

First Novel

When I told The Number One Son that I needed some reading for the return flight, having finished The Lincoln Lawyer, he handed me this book, saying, "I finally found a novel that uses more big words per page than yours."

It is true that I don't suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia and I'm not ashamed of my vocabulary, but I'm not particularly given to sesquipedalianism. Actually, it's not hard to find a novel with a richer vocabulary than mine, and very readable ones, such as Peace Like a River.

Blue, the protagonist of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, is apparently a genius, hence her propsensity for the occasional (OK, OK, the frequent) size 15 word. She also has a tendency to provide references for all her allusions, some of which are amusing, others helpful. (Oh, so that's what she meant by that metahor.)

This is a good book. It passed The Ellilptical Test, made easier as it is a large hardback, and therefore easier to keep open while I'm sweating the lbs away. I liked the book and would recommend it, but there were a few . . .

Nit-picky things that bugged me:

p. 28. Howie Easton, who went through girls the way a deer hunter in a single day of shooting could go through hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Anybody who has actually been deer hunting knows you don't go through hundreds of rounds of ammunition. If you don't get it with the first shot, you probably won't get the chance for a second. And if you do shoot off hundreds of rounds, you won't get to shoot anything, because no deer will be within miles of you after the first few rounds.

p. 30. You got to put your goods on display, babe. Otherwise, not only will the boys ignore you but - an' trust me on this, my sister's flat as you - we're talkin' the Great Plains of East Texas - no landmarks - one day you'll look down and have no wares at all. What'll you do then? Don't try to tell Mark Cloud about the "Great Plains of East Texas." Anybody who has been to East Texas knows it's choked with forests. That's why it's called the Big Thicket and the Piney Woods. Head west on I-20 and from Tyler, TX to Columbia, SC it's 1,000+ miles of solid trees. Just a glance at this GoogleMaps satellite view tells the story. Great Plains of East Texas my hind foot!

p. ??. illicit vs elicit. I know how things like this can creep into a book. After Welcome to Fred came out, Ray Blackson pointed out that I had reversed Francis Marion's name, calling him Marion Francis. (Oops!) And Merle Bobzien found several typos, including Monkeys instead of Monkees, and rue instead of roux. (And me a good East Texas boy and all, with a Cajun uncle who made shrimp gumbo for Thanksgiving. I'm ashamed.) Even so, I was a little bugged to see this common switcheroo, especially since the protagonist is such a word braniac.

p. 432. He found him on a fantasy island called Paxos, livin' high off the hog. Although you will find a lot of people saying off, the proper saying is living high on the hog.

  • Living high off the hog has the word high describing how you are living. You are living high, and you are doing it off a hog. What the heck does that mean? How does a hog enable you to live high?
  • Living high on the hog has the world high describing the location on the hog. Specifically, it describes which cuts of meat you're eating, the more expensive cuts higher up on the flank. You're eating the good stuff, living high on the hog.

Yes, picky stuff, but hey, Blue is presented as an intellectual, borderline if not true genius. I can't cut her as much slack as I would another character.

Still, it's a good book. Give it a shot.

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