Friday, December 28, 2007

Deuce Books

.....both picked up in airport book stores, starting with:

Special Topics In Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl (2006)
Why did I buy this book? First of all, the title appealed to me, second, it's a crime story taking place in North Carolina, and third, I vaguely remembered this book getting rave reviews by, the New York Times and pretty much everybody else. I thought it started really well, but then the main character, Blue Van Meer started to annoy the everloving crap out of me. Seeing as how the life stories of Blue Van Meer and Marisha Pessl shares too many similarities, including physical appearance, for this to be coincidental, Marisha Pessl started to annoy the crap out of me by extension. Why? The main character is a spoiled bookworm who compares herself to Jane Goodall when observing her classmates in the various prep schools she visits until ending up in good ol' NC. Which is kind of difficult to interpret as anything but her viewing herself as better than her classmates. Blue/Marisha takes all kinds of AP (that's Advanced Placement for y'all not familiar with the American educational system) level classes, and is quite frantic about writing down every word uttered by the instructors, which is indicative of learning by parroting, which is what you do if you're an overachiever with less than stellar mental faculties.

Her dad, Gareth Van Meer, always backs her up and whines to her teacher about how Blue is the ONLY choice for Valedictorian, and that the school has never seen the likes of his spawn's charisma, talent and overall Divine Presence. Gareth Van Meer is a perennial Visiting Professor/Lecturer who never stays at an any one academic institution for long. In the book, the reason is that he is so damn brilliant, and that everybody else is so far beneath him that their jealousy and incompetence simply makes it intolerable for him to honor their institution with His Immaculate Presence. Of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with the US academic system will recognize this as a sure-fire way to identify a grade-A, 100% guaran-damn-teed academic loser incapable of getting tenure.

At some point, Blue Van Meer is allowed access into the most exclusive society at the prep school - the Bluebloods - which consists of the most rich, spoiled and privileged kids, by way of a teacher. This society shares a startling number of similarities with the Life And Death Brigade in which Rory Gilmore gains access in the TV series Gilmore Girls - a storyline which aired in good time for Pessl to "borrow" from it. The one distinguishing feature of Blue Van Meer is her complete lack of personality - she becomes her surroundings like the true Tabula Rasa she is. One final annoyance from the book: referencing. Like the true overachiever she is, Pessl violates most rules for referencing by going completely overboard - if she writes "A bird was sitting in a tree outside my window" there'll be a reference after "bird" to "Encyclopedia of all living things, page whatever". Annoying, Thy name is Marisha Pessl.

The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart (1971)
Picked this one up this month, as I thought the concept sounded really kewl. Psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart leads a normal family life until he accidentally notices that his success in treating patients is completely uncorrelated with psyciatric methods, after curing several patients by switching their case files and consequently their treatments (including mistaking one patient for his secretary). Rhinehart then starts to let a pair of dice govern every decision in his life, leading to some pretty bizarre behavior on his part. In theory, this is a way cool concept, but in actuality the novel reads like a second-rate work by Henry Miller, which means it's a second-rate copy of a poor imitation of Hamsun's "Hunger". And that ain't nothin' to be smilin' about - read Hamsun instead. Rhinehart - whose real name is George Cockcroft, which goes a long way towards explaining the use of an alias - wrote a cult bestseller with this book, said on the back sleeve to be "Funny, shocking and subversive". In the beginning it's funny, but never really goes anywhere. Meh.

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