‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics,’ Decaf Edition

Photo: Melissa Hom


Our brothers at Grub Street posted an excellent New York Diet today, in which novelist Marisha Pessl reveals what she eats over the course of a week. Hidden among the mouthwatering treats (roast turkey and avocado at 'wichcraft, moules frites at Blaue Gans, poulet Cajun at Le Bilboquet) is the startling news that Pessl used to drink eight or nine cappuccinos a day while writing. (She's since cut back to two or three a day.) Using our Prose Decaf-O-Matic (patent pending!), we took a look at Pessl's breakthrough debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, to see how the caffeine affected her work.

First, we chose an paragraph at random from Pessl's novel, presumably written on eight to nine cappuccinos:

Dad picked up women the way certain wool pants can't help but pick up lint. For years I had a nickname for them, though I feel a little guilty using it now: June Bugs (see "Figeater Beetle," Ordinary Insects, Vol. 24)


At the Decaf-o-Matic's Four or Five Cappuccinos setting, Pessl's work is noticeably different:

Dad picked up women the way wool pants pick up lint. I had a nickname for them, though I feel guilty using it now: June Bugs.


At One or Two Cappuccinos:

Dad sure could pick up the women. I called them a smart-ass name.


And at Full Decaf:

Dad was a jerk. So was I.