Pessl is the author of the 2006 novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
Pessl's parents divorced when she was very young, and she was raised in North Carolina by her mother, with occasional visits to her father in Austria. After graduating from college she went to work in the mergers and acquisitions group at Price Waterhouse Coopers. Quitting her job to move to London with her then-boyfriend (he's now her husband), she turned to writing full-time. She finished up her novel in 2004 and emailed Susan Golomb, Jonathan Franzen's agent. Golomb promptly landed her a reported six-figure advance, which led to the 2006 publication of her debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
The buzz surrounding Special Topics in Calamity Physics was stimulated equally by discussion of the fetching young author's appearance and the touted literary merit of her 500-plus page "intellectual mystery." Carole DeSanti, Pessl's editor at Viking Penguin, told the New York Times that a picture of the then-twenty-seven-year-old novelist wasn't included with advance copies, because they wanted it to be "about the writing." A clever spin, managing to simultaneously imply that Pessl's youth and beauty would be distracting, and that they're irrelevant to her success (even though the book jacket features a photo taken when she was in college). Meanwhile, Gawker conducted a running joke about Pessl's looks, down- or up-grading her to "book hot," "TV hot," "Broadway hot," "college admissions brochure hot" and, finally, "eliminated first episode of Top Model Cycle hot."
When you're an ambitious young author who's hit the big time, what's the first thing you do? You dump the agent who took a chance on you and sign up with Binky Urban. In 2008, the ICM hotshot sold Pessl's second novel, Night Film, to Kate Medina at Random House, after Special Topics' publisher Viking Penguin wouldn't pony up an advance of sufficient heft. Night Film, which was sold on a proposal, is described as "a psychological thriller about obsession, family loyalty and ambition set in raw contemporary Manhattan."
She lives with her husband, hedge fund manager Nic Caiano, in a Tribeca loft with their cats Hitchcock and Fellini.