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You said it, honey, not I (Claptrap Update)

From the protracted preamble to the chapter entitled "Deliverance," on page 311 of Special Topics in Calamity Physics:

Without the disturbing incident of this chapter, I'd never have taken on the task of writing this story. I'd have nothing to write. Life in Stockton would have continued exactly as it was, as placid and primly self-contained as Switzerland, and any strange incidents - [catalogue deleted] - might be regarded as unusual, certainly, but in the end, nothing that couldn't be dully reviewed and accounted for by Hindsight, forever unsurprised and shortsighted. [Emphasis added]

So self-indulgent is this young author that she doesn't even recognize the very bad review that she has just given to the bloated nothing that she has scribbled on three hundred bound pages.

The success of Marisha Pessl's debut can only be ascribed to a triumph of publicity. Negative commentary has been muted; the gatekeepers, while not entirely comfortable with the book, have plumped for encouraging it. I haven't spoken with any ordinary mortals who've actually read it, so I don't know just how exceptional my dislike might have been. But I know that I am poised at the much-talked-of moment when, as Janet Maslin put it, the author dumps her "booster rockets" and the story takes off. We'll see. Even if it turns into the best yarn ever, that would not excuse the Stage IV cancer of what I've already had to put up with.


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You have with just the two excerpts you've posted and your comments convinced me to never, never ever, again take anyone on a tour of my bad neighborhood, that place inside my head where in the past I've said I don't like to go alone and fatuously dashed off a stream of consciousness in an email to a friend, thinking in my narcissism that somehow the recipient will accompany me in my ramblings and ease the pain with a response. No, I don't think I'll do that again, no, not this lifetime. I will be truly surprised if you find anything good to say later about this work. I would think that a few reviews like yours here would bring the author in question to my conclusion as well.

In the spirit of fairness, I should probably hold off on commenting about Marisha Pessl's work until actually reading the entire book. That being said, I found her reading last night at Skylight to be somewhat disappointing.

As an aspiring twentysomething novelist, I had every reason to be excited for a glimpse at the newly crowned wunderkind. Beyond that, as an avid consumer of literary fiction, I really hoped to be awed by her talents. (What's better, after all, than adding a new author to the rolodex?) Unfortunately, this wasn't the case.

To begin with, the sections from which Pessl read were freighted with similes to the point of distraction. Some, of course, were clever and well-placed, but the majority seemed superfluous and detracted from the overall descriptive flow. Additionally, and I know this is perhaps unfair--and I really do hate to make a tired structuralist critique--the notable similarities to Donna Tartt's "The Secret History," if only from a superficial armature standpoint, were a bit off-putting for me.

Lastly--and, again, I don't mean to pick nits--during the Q&A Pessl made several borderline embarrassing grammar mistakes; e.g., failing to distinguish between subject and object ("She returned the draft to my mother and I"), mis-using the subjunctive, etc. Admittedly, anyone can get nervous during a Q&A, and I'm not trying to suggest that Marisha Pessl doesn't know basic grammar. Nonetheless, it seems somewhat inconsistent for the author of a "pitch-perfect," sprawling pomo tome to be making simple grammar errors. One questions, for instance, whether a Moody, DFW, or JCO would fall prey to said pitfalls.

Again, to be fair, one can't really blame Pessl for a case of nerves (if that is, in fact, what it was) during her first reading tour. But she didn't really help her case any when she later admitted that, as an undergrad at Barnard, she simply "made up" footnotes for academic papers b/c she was "too lazy" to actually do the required research. That is, in the wake of such recent literary hoaxes as JT Leroy, James Frey, and Kavvya Viswanathan, a rising-star young author would be well-advised to avoid elucidating instances in which (s)he cut corners.

Again, I can't stress enough that I'm not putting Pessl in the fraud category; rather, I intend only to point ways in which she might lend herself more literary credibility, which is sure to be a concern going forward, given that she's already suffering something of a minor (if ineluctable) backlash against her "glamorous young author" status. In a nutshell, I guess I'd suggest that her handlers advise her to skip a few sessions of cardio and instead cozy up with Strunk & White.

That is, the best way, perhaps, to stifle the criticism that Pessl is primarily being championed b/c she's such an obviously saleable commodity (and no, she's not as hot in person) would be to have her give truly erudite interveiews and readings. Last night, at least, she failed to deliver.

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