A Doubter's Almanac, by Ethan Canin

This is an astonishing piece of work, a multi-generational epic about brilliant minds and the prisons they create for themselves as a means of dealing with the world. The first half of this novel is about Milo Andret, a mathematical genius and womanizer whose interactions with others and the outside world are characterized by brutal honesty and basic emotional incomprehension. To calm his mind, Milo turns to drink, and it slowly kills him. The second half of the book is written first-person from his son's point of view. Hans is also a brilliant mathematician, but instead of entering academia, he uses his skills to make millions on Wall Street. His poison of choice starts out as MDA as a teenager, then cocaine as an adult. But rather than let the addiction alienate his family and destroy his body, Hans is able to overcome it and become the father that Milo should have been.

The first half of this book is amazing. The math is there but very theoretical and not at all imposing, and Milo's journey to adulthood is enthralling. Hans' half of the story is not quite as good. It's still engaging, but some of the magic from Milo's story just doesn't quite make it into Hans'. The writing sometimes slides dangerously close to cliche, and watching Hans and his family rally around Milo despite the way he's treated them all was rather maddening. I think I'd have preferred the whole book just being about Milo, a much more interesting (albeit disgusting) character than his son. Still, it's a accomplished work and well worth picking up.


Popular Posts