Title: Life After Genius
Author: M. Ann Jacoby
Genre: Fiction; 386 pages
Rating: 1.5 Bookmarks
First things first: I plucked this book from the “NEW BOOKS” shelf at my library for purely aesthetic reasons–I loved the cover and snappy yellow spine. I hadn’t heard of the book or the author but was willing to give it a try. Second, to preserve the integrity of my reviews, I don’t read other reviews of the books I’m reading for fear they will color my opinion–I read them after I write my review to see how our reviews stack up. Third, the first three book reviews on my blog have essentially panned the books–this is purely coincidental.
Life After Genius tells the story of Theodore “Mead” Fegley, a prodigy who is trying to prove The Riemann Hypothesis, a mathematical equation that has been stumping the math world for 150 years.
I really tried to like this book–honest–but the author worked against me at every turn. The most annoying and unnecessary feature of this book is the non-linear sequence from which it was told. The book starts out when Mead is 18, 8 days from his college graduation, and bounces back and forth from there. Each chapter starts with a time frame and location–ie. High Grove, IL. Thrity-six hours before graduation or Chicago Three years before graduation.
An unknown event occurs that propels Mead to run away from college a few days shy of graduation and from presenting his research on the Riemann Hypothesis. I was left with a vague sense of annoyance for the remainder of the book, especially when mere chapters from the end, I learned the big secret–something I had guessed a dozen chapters earlier. Most of the Fegley family members have avoidance issues that manifest themselves throughout the the novel.
In the process of slogging to the end of the book, I learned about Mead’s childhood of being bullied and ostracized, his popular and athletic cousin Percy, his demanding mother, pacifist father, aunt and uncle, and the hallucinations that Mead starts having from a young age. For a while, I thought Jacoby was going to take the book in the schizophrenic genius direction, but she didn’t.
At college, we meet the requisite quirky mentor-professor and an urbane, wealthy kid who sidles up to Mead, feigning to be his friend. Though there was adequate character development for Mead, I had a hard time warming up to him. Most of the other characters, save Percy, were wholly forgettable.
The end of the book is just this side of absurd and left me utterly speechless. After I wrote this review, I learned that Jacoby is the art director at Penguin Group USA, and is responsible for book jackets. It took her fourteen years to write this book and I only wish she would have invested a tad more time, if only to improve the ending.