If genius truly skips a generation, what becomes of the moderately stellar offspring of brilliant parents? In his wry and affecting THE BEAUTIFUL MISCELLANEOUS, Austinite DOMINIC SMITH probes the fate of Nathan Nelson, who must suffer his quark-physicist father’s efforts—whiz kid camps, science drills—to mold him into a prodigy. While Mrs. Nelson retreats into obsessive housewifery, the disappointed professor buries himself in work, emerging only to ensure that his son is “still breathing under the auspices of gravity and motion.” When a head injury gives Nathan synesthesia (an inexplicable cross-wiring of the senses), it also confers on him the genius denied at birth, and his father embraces the freakish gift as a second chance. Unlike The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, Smith’s historical and stylized debut, this novel is bathed in a Midwestern ordinariness that casts the Nelson family’s oddities in stark relief. It’s a world where success is not absolute, failure is not irredeemable, and the distance between the two is quite short indeed.
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