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The Beautiful Miscellaneous: A Novel
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The Beautiful Miscellaneous: A Novel

3.9 7
by Dominic Smith

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, a dazzling new novel explores the fault lines that can cause a family to drift apart and the unexpected events that can pull them back together.

Nathan Nelson is the average son of a genius. His father, a physicist of small renown, has prodded him toward greatness from


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, a dazzling new novel explores the fault lines that can cause a family to drift apart and the unexpected events that can pull them back together.

Nathan Nelson is the average son of a genius. His father, a physicist of small renown, has prodded him toward greatness from an early age—enrolling him in whiz kid summer camps, taking him to the icy tundra of Canada to track a solar eclipse, and teaching him college algebra. But despite Samuel Nelson's efforts, Nathan remains ordinary.

Then, in the summer of 1987, everything changes. While visiting his small-town grandfather in Michigan, Nathan is involved in a terrible accident. After a brief clinical death — which he later recalls as a lackluster affair lasting less than the length of a Top 40 pop song—he falls into a coma. When he awakens, Nathan finds that everyday life is radically different. His perceptions of sight, sound, and memory have been irrevocably changed. The doctors and his parents fear permanent brain damage. But the truth of his condition is more unexpected and leads to a renewed chance for Nathan to find his place in the world.

Thinking that his son's altered brain is worthy of serious inquiry, Samuel arranges for Nathan to attend the Brook-Mills Institute, a Midwestern research center where savants, prodigies, and neurological misfits are studied and their specialties applied. Immersed in this strange atmosphere — where an autistic boy can tell you what day Christmas falls on in 3026 but can't tie his shoelaces, where a medical intuitive can diagnose cancer during a long-distance phone call with a patient—Nathan begins to unravel the mysteries of his new mind, and finally make peace with the crushing weight of his father's expectations.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With an exquisite ear not just for language but for emotional truth as well, Dominic Smith has written an ambitious and strikingly unusual tale about what it's like to grow up in the shadow of a brilliant father and under the force of his expectations. I finished this book in awe of Smith's imagination — and of his enormous heart." — Julia Glass, author of Three Junes and The Whole World Over

"The Beautiful Miscellaneous is one of the most original coming-of-age stories I've read in a long time. It's about gawkiness, particle physics, bereavement, and memory, but it's also a dazzling inquiry into a universe that is at once breathtakingly elegant and irrevocably mundane. Anomalies, graces, the tedium of grief — it's all here, cast in Dominic Smith's smooth, dazzling prose." — Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and About Grace

"The gifts of knowledge that failure brings is the subject of this deft and generous novel about fathers and sons. The phenomenon of love still being, pretty much, the most extraordinary phenomenon of them all, withstanding the ambitions of lesser dreams." — Joy Williams, author of Honored Guest and The Quick and the Dead

Publishers Weekly

Smith's novel of the painfully ordinary son of a brilliant scientist, and his sudden acquisition of marvelous powers of memory, is read by Garcia with a taste for melodrama. Garcia's melodramatic streak is understated, prodded less by emoting than by tone of voice and careful pauses. Each sentence ends with a slight downturn, as if inflated hopes have rapidly dwindled to nothingness. Garcia, a stage actor by training, treats Smith's novel as an extended monologue to be performed, summoning the moods and sensations of its prose via subtle shifts of emphasis. The result is a performance-driven audiobook, rendered in minimalist fashion. Simultaneous release with the Atria hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 23). (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Young Nathan may be extremely talented, whiling away his summers in whiz-kid camps, but he's not the prodigy his father dreams of until he emerges from an accident-induced coma with a rare condition that lets him memorize...everything. With a five-city tour; a BookClubReader feature. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
He's no genius, but he's hardly normal; a boy struggles with this quandary in this finely modulated second novel (The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, 2006). Nathan Nelson is an only child burdened by expectations of genius. The problem is not his high-minded but practical mother; it's his father Samuel, a college physics professor in their Wisconsin town. Samuel has large ambitions of his own (he is looking for the ghost particle), but he takes Nathan's mild precocity for genius. He subjects him to frequent math and science drills. For his tenth birthday in 1980, Samuel plans a surprise trip to California. Disneyland, hopes Nathan, but no such luck; they visit Samuel's shrine, the Stanford Linear Accelerator. The fact is Samuel, while trying to do the best by his son, is clueless about kids and has no people skills. A crisis erupts at the seventh-grade science fair when Nathan, seeing the rest of his childhood gobbled up by similarly dreary events, deliberately flubs the championship question and gains a respite. This is where an interesting novel becomes even more so. Nathan's grandfather, drunk, causes a deadly highway accident. The old man dies; after a brief near-death experience, Nathan emerges from a coma to find he has synesthesia-some sensory boundaries have dissolved; words have colors and tastes; he can perform astonishing feats of memory; his father's hopes of genius surge back. Nathan attends an Institute for the unusually gifted, but again he disappoints his dad, who will soon learn he has an inoperable brain tumor. There are moving scenes before and after his death as Nathan realizes that behind his difficult exterior, Samuel did harbor unconditional love for him. Thereare also plenty of lighter moments, and the unerringly true dialogue is a delight; one dinner-table conversation of a "normal" family, eavesdropped on by Nathan, deserves to be anthologized. A luminous addition to novels about fathers and sons.

Product Details

Washington Square Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


As far as near-death experiences go, mine was a disappointment. No bright whirring tunnel or silver-blue mist, just a wave of white noise, a low-set squall coming from an unknown source. I was gone for ninety seconds and spent the next two weeks in a coma. I sometimes imagine the moment when my miniature death ended and the coma began. I picture it like emerging from a bath in absolute darkness.

I woke in a hospital room during the last week of July 1987. I was seventeen and it was the middle of the night. A series of machines stood around my bed, emitting a pale, luminous green. I stared at a heart monitor, mesmerized by the scintilla of my pulse moving across the screen. Tiny drops of clear liquid hovered, then fell inside an IV bag. Voices — muffled and indistinguishable — carried in from a corridor. I felt unable to call out. I lay there quietly, looking up at the ceiling, and waited for someone to confirm that I was back among the living.

Copyright © 2007 by Dominic Smith

Meet the Author

Dominic Smith grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Austin, Texas. He holds an MFA in writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly.

His awards include the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. In 2006, his debut novel The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre received the Steven Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Dominic serves on the fiction faculty in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and has taught recently at the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University. Find out more at www.dominicsmith.net.

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The Beautiful Miscellaneous 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book
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LoverOfGoodBooks28 More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up with no idea what to expect. I loved it! I read it in two days. I thought the book was very visual and easy to imagine the characters, who were very interesting. I definitely recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great story, you are immeadiately drawn in from page 1. Even from the first handful of pages I was able to visualize the setting & sense the real emotions between the characters in the story. I devoured this book over the weekend and read nonstop.