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The Beautiful Miscellaneous: A Novel Hardcover – June 5, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Following a car crash, Nathan Nelson, 17, is recovering from a two-week-long coma in July 1987. His father, Samuel, a physics professor at a Wisconsin college, wanted a genius for a son. Nathan, who narrates, has always been uninspired at best, but finds that the accident has left him with heightened senses, and a prodigious memory. Cerebral Samuel, whom Nathan can't help revering, rejoices. Even when sent to a school for the gifted, however, Nathan mostly watches TV and smokes cigarettes with girlfriend Teresa, whose talent is a kind of X-ray vision. Teresa soon uses this talent to spot a tragedy looming in Nathan's immediate future, and his life afterward, for the reader, is all frustrating anticlimax. As the years pass, Nathan works at a dead-end library job, stalks townspeople and parties with former schoolmates. This narrative's strengths are its abundant humor, occasional lyrical patches and portrayal of the quirky but reliable Whit Shupak, a retired astronaut and family friend. But Smith (The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre) never allows the immature, lackadaisical Nathan to really develop or emerge from his father's shadow. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At 17, Nathan Nelson has no idea what he wants to be. His particle-physicist father, however, has already made up his mind: Nathan will be a genius! The boy, who considers himself only slightly above average, has his doubts. "Being less than brilliant with a genius parent," he notes, "is like being the bum who stares, midwinter, through the restaurant window." But things change dramatically when--as the result of an accident--Nathan develops synesthesia; he begins seeing, tasting, and feeling words. He also develops an encyclopedic memory. Filled with new hope, Nathan's father enrolls his son in the Brook-Mills Institute for Talent Development, a research facility that Nathan's blind pianist roommate calls the "Taj Mahal of weird." When his father develops a brain tumor, Nathan's struggles to satisfy the man's great expectations before it's too late become increasingly poignant. This unusual, gorgeously written novel is filled with pleasures: among them are richly imagined supporting characters, including Whit, the astronaut and improbable best friend of Nathan's father, and Teresa, the medical psychic with whom the boy falls in love. Best of all, though, is the book's invitation to wonder--about the imponderables of life and death, the nature of intelligence, and the ultimately inexplicable relationships of fathers and sons. Michael Cart
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atria; 1 edition (June 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743271238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743271233
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,357,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dominic Smith is the author of four novels: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos (forthcoming with Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2016), Bright and Distant Shores, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, and The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre. He grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Austin, Texas.

His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Atlantic, Texas Monthly and the Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal.

Smith's awards include the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize, and a New Works Grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. His novels have been recognized as a Booklist Editors' Choice, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book, and as part of the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Book Dork VINE VOICE on October 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When writing a coming of age novel an author runs the risk of producing yet another formulaic tale of how a young person endures life's hardships and "finds himself." It's a genre we can all relate to, we're all familiar with the trials and tribulations of youth. The test for a writer is then how do you take advantage of this easy way of connecting with readers without becoming cliché? While many fail at this task, Dominic Smith comes out far ahead through his multi dimensional characters, carefully constructed plot and well developed messages.

The main character, Nathan, is a young man who moves through his boyhood years with the keen awareness that he is failing his scientist father; Nathan is not the genius his father had brought him up to be. After barely surviving a severe car accident Nathan develops synesthesia, a condition that affects sensory input and storage, hence allowing exceptional memory capabilities. His father jumps at this second chance at having a gifted child and enrolls him in a type of live-in laboratory for savants. There he comes into his own, developing new relationships and learning about the ones he already has.

The Beautiful Miscellaneous takes on many hefty subjects, including familial relationships, love, death, religion and the unknown. At the same time, Smith keeps the tone light, making it a very enjoyable read. You take away what you want from this novel; an entertaining story about a boy with memory powers or a thought provoking story about what life means to each one of us.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul Turner on June 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you want to take a break from mysteries, thrillers, suspense, action, romance, and science fiction, READ THIS BOOK. However, I must warn you, you don't really get to escape all those genres. What I mean is this, Dominic has crafted a "coming of age" story of a bright, creative, and very normal young man who was born into a family of perfectionists, yet uniquely loving parents. His dreams and pursuits will never meet his father's expectations of him, until one day as a result of a near fatal car accident, he is bestowed with a unique gift that enables him to join an elite group of geniouses in a think tank environment. Problem solved with the parents, right? Wrong. Its never enough!

I loved this book, even though I spend 99% of my time reading thrillers, this one thrilled me in a new way. It allowed me to take a break from the action, and enjoy a good book that is based on a very cool scientific premise. No physics degree needed to read this book, you'll learn from it, but enjoy the progression of the story. The ending is satisfactory in a way that left me continuing to think about the scene. I don't do that often. I usually have the next book in line to read, but after reading this one last winter, I took a break for about a week from any books, just to let this one sink in.

I look forward to my next Thriller "break" when Dominic gives us his next one.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Conrad Guest on August 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Beautiful Miscellaneous is the second novel from Dominic Smith. The first, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, is historical fiction, while Miscellaneous is a foray into contemporary fiction. Set in the mid- to late 1980s, protagonist and narrator Nathan Nelson has the self-described misfortune of being the son of a particle-physicist genius, who first waits for the genius gene in his son to kick in, and then tries, unsuccessfully, to jump start it; Nathan of course considers himself average at best, wishing at times to please his father even as he longs for the freedom to simply be who he is, even if he's not yet sure who that is.

Following a car crash, the seventeen-year-old Nathan emerges from a two-week coma to find he has developed a case of synesthesia -- a medical condition which enables him to see, taste and feel emotions associated with words -- along with a photographic memory; he can memorize phonebooks, encyclopedias, and recall dialogue from television sitcoms. Nathan's father, Samuel, sees this as the precursor to great things to come for his son, and so he sends him to the Brook-Mills Institute for Talent Development, a research facility in which Nathan meets a host of other gifted young people, including a blind pianist who plays by ear and Teresa, a young woman who can look into a person and identify medical infirmities, and from whom Nathan learns to smoke and drink, and with whom he eventually falls in love. While Nathan is a charming if somewhat annoyingly passive protagonist, these tertiary characters, along with Whit, Samuel's best friend who also happens to be a retired astronaut turned poet who's verse suffers from an incurable case of the malapropism -- "Up here in the dark, far from the poi-holloi...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By G. Messersmith VINE VOICE on June 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Nathan Nelson is the main character of the novel. He is the only child of a genius father. The father is certain that genius can arrive at any time. Although Nathan is above average, he is not like his father. And it soon becomes apparent that no amount of special training by his father or genius camps can transform him into brilliance. Nathan's mother is an extremely bright woman who runs the household with military discipline; loves reading novels; belongs to a travel club; makes exotic dishes for dinner; and attempts some normalcy in their household. In all they make a rather eccentric but loveable family. Not to mention that an ex-astronaut named Whit hangs out at their house a lot and becomes like a member of the family.

A few chapters in the novel, Nathan is involved in a car crash which causes clinical death; resurrection; and then a coma for several weeks. He appears to make a full recovery with one small exception ~ he can memorize everything, a state called synesthesia. First he recites everything from shows on television; then he memorizes the Bible; novels; poems, etc.. Not only can he remember everything but words come to him in color and Smith's literary talents really shine here, i.e., "burn resembled an upright man with a mustache; safe was something substantial, a stone house" (87). He goes on to tell us that every word was married to a mental image in his brain. The word guest is wheat-colored whereas the word patient is slate-gray. Smith's description are wonderful and a big part of the novel.

It appears that the accident may have let Nathan become the genius his father always wanted. Once Nathan has fully recovered he is sent to a school for gifted children where he mostly hangs out with a girl he falls for and learns to smoke and drink.
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