Mrs. Cayenne and I went to the Decatur Public Library last night to see Marisha Pessl read from Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Let me begin by noting that it is pronounced Ma-ree-sha. You learn something new at these things every time.
We scrambled out of the house to get there in time and somehow got there 20 minutes early. Not sure how that happened. As a result, we were there when the author arrived and was whisked away for an interview with Wordsmiths’ Russ. Russ was clearly won over by his subject, and we’ll certainly post a link to his interview when it is up. (Also, we forgot our camera on our way out the door. Wordsmiths’ Russ agreed to let us borrow some of his.
I’ll update this post when pictures arrive. Thanks, Russ!)
The reading got off to a late start due to the author’s interview elsewhere in the building. It was kicked off with a lengthy introduction by the Director of the Georgia Center of the Book. At least three minutes of the introduction were about the author being wildly attractive. Mrs. Cayenne and I were giving each other “What the…?” and “Oh no he didn’t!” looks throughout. Also: eyes were rolled.
Pessl began the evening by reading an essay called “The Big Idea.” The conceit behind this essay was that Pessl had been caught off guard numerous times during her previous book tour for the hard cover when she would be invariably asked, “where did you get the idea.” She says that she had a hard time coming up with a satisfying answer. The essay was intended to be an answer to that question/motivational speech for writers in the room. The condensed answer is to look at the everyday world around you – then look closer. The Cayenne contingent was getting a little restless by the end of this part of the program.
The reading itself consisted of four passages from the book: a piece of the introduction, the introduction to Garreth and the junebugs, an introduction to Hannah (go back and read that scene in the grocery store if you need some foreshadowing), and the passage where the Bluebloods are throwing around theories about what Hannah is really up to (which is also an interesting section when you know how the book will turn out).
After the reading, Pessl took only three questions from the audience, preferring that we ask any additional questions in person while getting our books signed. Pessl was asked if she has a new book on the horizon. She does. It will be in a similar style, but involve “a different world.” That’s about all that she would say publicly about that. She was also asked about the references spread throughout the book. Pessl affirmed the questioners observation that many of the references were fake, and she noted that she had a lot of fun crafting the fake references to seem plausible and witty. She said that she thought that it would have been very dry to have Blue only cite “real” references. So one of my pet theories died an unceremonious death.
Pessl also pointed out that a reason for the references was a reflection that Blue had been raised in a world of books. They were her only friends as she and her father moved endlessly around the country. Books are Blue’s comfort zone. The references are more frequent at the beginning of the book as Blue hides behind their protective cover. The references become less frequent as the book moves on – decreasing steadily as Blue becomes more sure of herself and more confident in telling her story.
Meeting with the author afterwards was the high point of the reading. Ms. Pessl is very charming in person and quite clearly cares deeply about her book. She talked with us at length while signing our books. (Sorry if you were behind us!) I asked her about Blue’s reliability as a narrator, a question that I had raised in the Special Topics Round Table. We quickly learned that Pessl doesn’t want to give too much away, and she’s very much of the “every reader’s experience is the correct one for them” school. She will give you a straight answer, but she’ll make you work for it by making you tell her what you think happened.
I floated my theories (again – apologies if you were behind us): I’ve always thought that Blue was hiding something or that she had at least failed to make some of the connections in the book that the reader may pick up on, etc. The author visibly beamed at the idea that some things have gotten past Blue, and she told me that I was onto something there. She also told me that she thought that Blue was otherwise a fairly reliable narrator.
Mrs. Cayenne asked the author a fairly pointed question about what happens after the book, which I can’t reveal without providing a major spoiler. Pessl did mention that someone will make a cameo in her next book (which will be unrelated to this one) that may provide some “closure” on that score. We’ll have to wait and see.
We went out for dinner afterwards (Mrs. Cayenne and I) and had a nice conversation about the book and rehashed what we thought had gone on in the book. It was a nice evening all around.