Imagine gravity was not simply a feature of an organic planet, but a complicated system maintained by a network of large machines. Imagine the Earth was supported by these machines, providing the energy and the subsystem for Earth to function as it does. What would happen as those machines aged? Would they begin to wear down over time? Would they eventually fail? Could they be repaired?
Does this ever happen to you? Most often, when I read/watch/hear/see/experience/taste/whatever a work of art, I find myself encouraged. I think, "wow, that is AWESOME and I want to do that!" Which is inspiring and motivating and blah blah. However, occasionally I come across a work of such staggering and stupefying genius that I think to myself, "obviously I don't need to try and pursue [insert artistic medium here] because it has already been thoroughly and resoundingly mastered." And, in the rare cases where that artistic medium is in fact one of the few I have practiced, I suddenly feel a bit shamed at my own inferior offerings.
Cases in point: Gyorgy Ligeti, who has continually out-geniused every one of my attempts at writing atonal piano music. "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie, which outclassed and thereby negated all desire I ever had to write a somewhat fictional biography (yes, I have tried and I have failed). The band Soul Coughing earned a decisive victory over me (under the marginally clever stage name Gyrus) in the ever-popular category of mildly drug-induced poetic rambling over acoustic guitar and strange electronic noises. And we can't forget Bill Watterson, whose Calvin and Hobbes comics were the foundation of my youth and the reason the thought of being a cartoonist has never - not even once - crossed my mind.
It has happened to me again. I just devoured all 514 pages of Marisha Pessl's novel "Special Topics in Calamity Physics." It's a story about a highschool age girl named Blue who has grown up in the large and rather imposing shadow of her father, a renowned (but not quite famous) professor of philosophy. The premise and the story are simultaneously charming and unnerving (as Blue's senior year of high school doesn't quite go according to plan), but on equally impressive ground is Pessl's dazzling style of writing. The author has two magical gifts: the ability to pick the perfect adjective (often absurd and capitalized), and the ability to pick the perfect nickname. The author is also the human equivalent of an encyclopedia; the book reeks of someone well read and well researched. Not a single page goes by where the reader does not think to themselves, "damn, this girl is smart. Probably quite a ways smarter than me." Which could be intimidating (as everyone I've tried to get to read Pynchon has said) if the way she writes wasn't so intoxicating. You might think she had been doing this for fifty years until you take a gander at the liner notes and realize this is her debut novel.
So allow me to offer a sincere "thank you" to Marisha Pessl for making me feel wholly inferior in my own writing. Actually, let me rephrase that. Allow me offer a sincere "thank you" to Marisha Pessl for leaving me awestruck, confounded, and amazed.
Oh, and let me casually suggest to anyone who might read this blog: go pick up a copy if you haven't already.