The Beautiful Miscellaneous

The Beautiful Miscellaneous

A Novel

  • reading group guide
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. He also tries to make peace with the crushing weight of his father's expectations.

The Beautiful Miscellaneous is an extraordinary follow-up to Dominic Smith's critically acclaimed debut, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre. This 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.
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  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743271257 | 
  • July 2008
List Price $25.99

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Beautiful Miscellaneous includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Dominic Smith. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

At seventeen, Nathan Nelson is the mildly gifted son of a genius. His father, Dr. Samuel Nelson, is a particle physicist whose three passions in life are quarks, jazz, and uncovering Nathan's prodigious talents. Consequently, Nathan has spent his formative years in whiz-kid summer camps, taking trips to particle accelerators, and plotting simultaneous equations to the off-kilter riffs of Thelonious Monk. An only child, Nathan is painfully aware that he "swims like a tadpole in the deepest place of the bell curve" and slouches through puberty looking for an escape from his parents' lofty dream.

Everything changes when Nathan is involved in a terrible accident. After a brief clinical death and a two-week coma, he awakens to find that 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 much more unexpected and leads to a renewed chance for Nathan to find his place in the world.

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About the Author

Dominic Smith
Photo Credit: Stacy Sodolak Photography

Dominic Smith

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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Author Revealed

Q. how did you come to write The Beautiful Miscellaneous?

A. A friend told me a story about a college roommate whose father had won a Nobel Prize. The daughter of this famous figure had trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, finishing papers, and generally aspiring to much of anything. The story made me start to wonder about the cost of genius in a family. I wondered what it would be like to be the average son of a genius and that was the earliest thread of the novel.

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