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It occurs to me that I haven't been reading at my usual rate. It's true that I've been busy, but it's also true that I'm mired in the middle - or not quite the middle - of Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. As of page 180, from which I am going to quote, Special Topics is a wildly overwritten but deadeningly mediocre imitation of Donna Tartt's superb The Secret History.

He cleared his throat, stuck his hands in his pocket with ox-in-sun slowness. I suspected Jade had recently tipped him off to my feelings - "Gag's gaga over you," I could hear her saying, "like so gone, like fixated," - because lately, when he looked at me, a shabby smile drifted across his face. His eyes circled over me like old flies. I suffered no hope, no daydream that he felt  anything similar to the way I did, which wasn't lust or love ("Juliet and Romeo be damned, you can't be in love until you've flossed your teeth next to the person at least three hundred times," Dad said) but acute electricity. I'd spot him lumbering across the Commons; I'd feel struck by lightning. I'd see him in the Scratch at he'd say, "Howdy, Retch"; instantly I was a light bulb in a series circuit. I wouldn't have been surprised if, in Elton, when he trudged by my AP Art History class on his way to the infirmary (he was always on the verge of measles or mumps), my hair rose off my neck and stood on end.

Lets hope it's not, ahem, the mumps! The last sentence is particularly unfortunate, couched as it is in the conditional mode. Serious metaphoric overreach! It should read: "Whenever he passed by me my hair stood on end," or something similarly simple. We don't need AP Art History (please!) or trips to the infirmary for childhood diseases (excuse me?) to get the picture. But I'm not sure that Blue van Meer, the precious narrator of Special Topics, gets the picture. She's lost in Lingoland, where on every desk there stand at least three "Power Vocabulary" calendars.

Or, as Darren Reidy says in the Village Voice - how I wish I'd said it - "Her métier is claptrap..."


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Thanks for the warning. As always there is good writing, bad writing, memorable writing, excellent writing and writing we should avoid like poison. And of course then there is DB which alerts us to all they've seen characterizing it in a style uniquely beyond comparison or appraisal.

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