A few days ago I finished Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It was a strange book for me, because it was a page-turner (at least, some of it was), but the writing style annoyed me, and overall I ended up really disappointed.
I didn’t believe any of the characters. There’s little in the story that I could relate to my own life–and I don’t just mean in terms of things that happen, because lots of things happen in lots of books that have nothing to do with my life. I feel like the author tried too hard to describe everything so that she didn’t leave room to fill in anything–at least, nothing superficial. Somehow, even after all of that, I felt like the characters lacked any sort of depth. With all the glowing reviews at the front of the book, I would have guessed that the main character would be appealing. She’s not. I found her annoying, not very believable, and pretty stupid for how smart she’s supposed to be. I kept trying to give a lot of characters a pass, because they’re supposed to be smarty-pants high schoolers, but it just doesn’t work. And the adults don’t act like adults, either. The things they say and do with the young people are just totally implausible. Okay, maybe one or two oddball characters would act strangely with kids, but all of them? It just doesn’t work.
And the similes!! No, the LISTS of similes. It was painful.
Shortly before I finished the book, I was talking to Amy, who read and enjoyed the book–though she had some issues with it, too. We were talking about bad similes in books, and she said something about a book she’d read (not this one, or so she thought, anyway) having a ridiculous simile that compared someone’s eyes to olives. Well, lo and behold, toward the end of Special Topics, the narrator compares someone’s eyes to olives. I guess maybe in this case it’s supposed to be funny. It isn’t the worst bit of the book, though. It isn’t even so much that all the similes are bad, it’s that there are too many of them… The author couldn’t just pick a few of the most poetic and spot-on ones or find some other way of describing things.
And all the endless referencing and faux referencing… it isn’t clever, it’s annoying. I hate all that b.s..
For all of the supposed unpredictability of the book, I feel like I totally nailed the ending long before it happened.
It isn’t a painful read in that somehow most of the time it flows (except in the part where the main character is supposedly figuring everything out–which to me felt too convenient and very boring), but her writing is often painful in other ways. There’s something self-congratulatory about it that’s really off-putting. I can’t recommend it. Read Donna Tartt or something instead.