Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Friendly Advice

1. When one funnels the traffic from two Southern California freeways into a single lane and closes off all possible detour routes, how many hours until the research subjects lose all hope and purposefully drive through guardrails?

Under the guise of "road construction," social psychologists have undertaken this experiment between Barstow and Los Angeles on the 15 South. In the name of all that is holy, stay away from there.

2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl is much, much less good than you have been led to believe. Its stylistic conceits do not work. Its characterizations are flat and tiresome. Worst of all, it is as annoyingly precocious as a 4-year-old who attends private kindergarten and calls her parents by their first names.

I feel that the reviewers are held hostage on this one, for it was determined that this book would be a big friggin' deal and that Marisha Pessl would be the next Zadie Smith since before it was published. Still, they're trying to warn us, even if it means resorting to code.

Janet Maslin's review in the New York Times begins:

"Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated."

Roughly, this translates to:

"Maisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a fleshed-out creative writing assignment by an Ivy League-educated twenty-something who finished Infinite Jest, and understands IMPORTANT THINGS much better than you ever could."

I realize I am being way harsh. This is partly because it took me 2 hours to move 10 miles down the side of a mountain today. But it is mostly because I spent 2 months waiting on the library holds list for a book that was supposed to be good, and wanted to spare others my disappointment.

Recently, it was brought to my attention by my co-contributor that I am a "hater." I do not hate on things by nature. Moreover, I want to like young, innovative writers, but this plucky, perky, precocious thing is just not working for me. Can anyone out there recommend any "Bicentennial Baby" types who have not been contaminated by McSweeney's?


Gwen said...

Oh, geez. I can't imagine many worse things than being stuck in traffic out by Barstow. It's dismal out there.

Adam said...

Haven't read it. Almost bought it over the weekend, though. I stopped myself and bought House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski instead.

Do you think you're a victim of hype? Or is the book really that bad?

mary_m said...

It's not that it's the worst thing I've ever read in my life. It's just that I don't like being told that books are great when they're not - especially because books that get that kind of hype are usually written by someone young and attractive.

Jessa Crispin wrote an article about this phenomenon some months back for The Book Standard:

Then again, she argues that Pessl's writing DOES live up to the hype, and usually, she's very brainy about these things.

I gave it 100 pages, and found it too pretentious and annoying to continue, despite its very interesting premise. However, another reader might enjoy it very much. Hating McSweeney's like I do might have something to do with this.