Saturday, June 23, 2007

Book Review: the beautiful miscellaneous by Dominic Smith

I like an eclectic range of books, including stories about science, so the beautiful miscellaneous by Dominic Smith seemed to be a good bet when I saw it in the bookstore. I skimmed its pages before buying it and I was intrigued by the description on the jacket leaf.

It started off slowly for me, but soon I was engaged in the storyline, fascinated by the characters and the basic plotline. But then little details got in the way. For instance, Nathan, the main character, and his father go to Manitoba to observe a solar eclipse. Nathan says, “We watched the moon drift toward the rising sun.” That’s not possible. The moon moves between the Earth and the Sun so the dark side of the moon faces the Earth. Nathan wouldn’t have been able to see the moon move toward the sun! A nit? Perhaps. However, Nathan lives in Wisconsin somewhere near Madison, yet his descriptions suggest nothing unique to that area, so it could have been almost anywhere. Other parts of his description seem spot-on, so why not in these areas, too?

In the story, Nathan is in an accident and dies briefly. He comes back to life but lives in a coma for a time, then returns to consciousness. In doing so, he is given a new gift. It is in this description that author Dominic Smith shows his greatest gifts as a writer and where I found the most enjoyable reading. The center of the book contains some pretty amazing imagery, some very fine writing.

The basic story is about the conflict between Nathan and his father, and his parent’s desire to have a son with gifts of genius. When he receives gifts of genius, Nathan has been so resentful of his parents that he can’t focus on using the gifts productively but peters them away on self-indulgent flights of fantasy during which there is no personal growth. In this respect, the beautiful miscellaneous becomes a “coming of age” story, although I don’t think a very uplifting one.

I expected some revelation at the end of the book, some epiphany for Nathan. It never comes. In fact, the ending was personally disappointing for me. A huge build up that flattens out into nothing. I wish I could say it was otherwise.
I wrote to Dominic Smith about the lunar eclipse problem and he said he would change it for the paperback printing.