Believe the hype: Marisha Pessl’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Viking), is a lot of fun. Teenage narrator Blue van Meer, overfond of the literary reference and parenthetical remark, is Pessl’s preternaturally studious protagonist. She’s the daughter of Gareth van Meer, himself a model of the philosophically idiosyncratic, sexually prodigious, often drunk professor enshrined in Western postmodernism by folks like David Lodge back in the 80s. The campus-hopping pair have no sooner landed in Stockton, North Carolina, than Blue finds herself entangled with five snotty teenagers whom Hannah Schneider, a charismatic film teacher at her high school, has taken under her wing. Schneider’s baffling death sends Blue off on a hunt to figure out what happened, and from there the tale is a thrilling mystery on par with the best of Agatha Christie–and Scooby-Doo. The book’s silly self-reflexivity, crafty genre trappings, and winking sense of humor make it the apotheosis of McSweeney’s lit, the perfect bubblegum offspring of the Staggering memoir that defined the aesthetic less than a decade ago. Wed 8/23, 7:30 PM, Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Laura Rose.