Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby

Theodore Mead Fegley has always been the smartest person he knows. By age 12, he was in high school, and by 15 he was attending a top-ranking university. And now, at the tender age of 18, he's on the verge of proving the Riemann Hypothesis, a mathematical equation that has mystified academics for almost 150 years. But only days before graduation, Mead suddenly packs his bags and flees home to rural Illinois. What has caused him to flee remains a mystery to all but Mead and a classmate whose quest for success has turned into a dangerous obsession.

At home, Mead finds little solace. His past ghosts haunt him; his parents don't understand the agony his genius has caused him, nor his desire to be a normal kid, and his dreams seem crushed forever. He embarks on a new life's journey--learning the family business of selling furniture and embalming the dead--that disappoints and surprises all who knew him as "the young Fegley genius."

Equal parts academic thriller and poignant coming-of-age story, this novel follows the remarkable journey of a young man who must discover that the heart may know what the head hasn't yet learned.

My Review:
An eighteen-year-old genius leaves college eight days before graduating. Why, you ask? The answer is revealed bit by bit as the reader looks back through Mead's tortured childhood. His cold, distant mother loves Mead conditionally when he performs well scholastically. She nags and controls him. One way he rebuffs her is by thinking of her as "the six-legged creature." Mead's indifferent father, runs a furniture store/undertaking business and seems unaware of the existence of his son. The only people who are good to Mead are his Aunt Jewel and his cousin, Percy.

Mead reveals the pain of being an emotional and social misfit. Wishing he could be an "overlooked face in the crowd," he spends most of his life hiding--struggling to stay out of the paths of potential tormentors. His one love is that of learning, particularly in the field of mathematics. Mathematicians will enjoy this novel with the many references. Truthfully, I had to look up "Carl Fredrich Gauss,""Riemann zeta-hypothesis," "Prime Number Theorem," "Method of Least Squares," "Bell Labs," and "Cray X/MP" to confirm that these names and labels exist. They all do.

Chapters are not in chronological order; they are mixed up--much like Mead's life. The tale begins eight days before graduation and each chapter reveals one puzzle piece in Mead's life so that the reader can understand the puzzling question, "Why leave college eight days before graduating?" Unhappily, the ending did not tie up all loose ends.

Note: This novel contains profanity and adult themes.


Anonymous said...

As I was reading, I wondered if the math stuff was true. One of my son's roomies "loves math," so I asked my son to ask him and sure enough, it is.

sharonanne said...

I was unhappy with the ending as well. Great review.

Toni said...

Hi there... This is a great place to stop on the blog tour. I loved the six Legged creature reference. I also think it revealed some of the immaturity of Mead and his inability to face up to issues.

Good review.

.Books by TJ Baff said...

I was satisfied with the left it up to my own interpretation.
Good review!

Luanne said...

I too wondered about the math stuff - kudos to you for checking. Now I know!

Anna said...

Overall, I thought the book was enjoyable, but I agree that the ending fell flat.

Diary of an Eccentric