Initially, I thought The Beautiful Miscellaneous would actually be about some sort of savant: a Rain Man for our times, perhaps. I like such books: I thought Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, for instance, was fabulous.
The book wasn’t quite what I expected: there’s plenty about savants, sure, and geniuses, and superfunctional dysfunction, but it’s a vehicle for Smith’s real plot, which is a somewhat dry emotional drama. I’m only parroting the jacket flap when I say that the book tells the story of Nathan, the intellectually average son of a physics genius. After a near-fatal car accident leaves Nathan will new abilities, the dynamics of his relationship with his father changes.
It really is odd how little Nathan’s newfound abilities matter at all in the book. In a surprising turn, the book is little more than an average character drama, rather than a Good Will Hunting, at least part of which is centered around a mental talent and not just a dysfunctional family.
And that’s part of what ruined The Beautiful Miscellaneous for me: I didn’t at all believe in Smith’s construction of this family: it was too cartoonish, too archetypically “weird.” For a book which forsook its “troubled geniuses” sleeve description for the unimpressive nitty-gritty of “strained father-son relationship” and “introvert meets girl,” the author apparently wasn’t troubled by making the situation anything that his readers could relate to, or even believe as likely—or even plausible.
Readers of the book will realize, by the end, that not only is the plot underwhelming, the characters forgettable, but the resolution is an ineffectual sort of “and that’s that” end to a pretty tepid conflict. I didn’t get the sense that I was reading anything of particular worth, depth or merit. You’ll probably want to avoid this one.