Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Life After Genius: M. Ann Jacoby

Written by Katie Naymon
 Active Image  M. Ann Jacoby’s literary debut, Life After Genius, takes the form of a stereotypical coming-of-age novel but its protagonist, Theodore “Mead” Fegley, is anything but typical. Mead is a genius, simply put, and he’s been painfully aware of his IQ since he was born. Graduating high school at the ripe age of fifteen, Mead is socially awkward, yet extraordinarily brilliant.
M. Ann Jacoby’s literary debut, Life After Genius, takes the form of a stereotypical coming-of-age novel but its protagonist, Theodore “Mead” Fegley, is anything but typical. Mead is a genius, simply put, and he’s been painfully aware of his IQ since he was born. Graduating high school at the ripe age of fifteen, Mead is socially awkward, yet extraordinarily brilliant.

He attends the extremely elite fictional college Chicago University, where he easily passes out of introductory courses and is taken under wing by the prestigious mathematics department. Mead is trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis, a real-life mathematical conundrum that has utterly consumed him and a fellow classmate. The novel takes the reader through high school and college, weaving in tales of Mead’s dysfunctional family life, his attempted romantic relationships, and his obsession with proving mathematical hypotheses that have befuddled mathematicians much older and more experienced than him.

With its frequent flashbacks and suspense, Life After Genius almost reads like a thriller. It, however, functions better as a character study. Told through a series of flashbacks, the novel skips back and forth between Mead's early life, his life at college, and his days right before his college graduation when he returns home suddenly, and supposedly without a reason. Mead is smart and equipped with the dark humor that only an awkward preadolescent in college could possess.

Brought up by a furniture seller and an embalmer, Mead struggles with his relationship with his family, particularly his mother who almost obsessively wants him to be successful. Mead is logical and dry and is rarely emotional, though this often comes off as endearing to the reader. While Mead is truly the life of this story, another gem is his friend Herman Weinstein, who embodies every stereotype you’ve ever heard of a New England prep—he’s arrogant, rich, selfish, manipulative, and completely and utterly seductive and suave. Herman and Mead’s relationship is complex, and without giving too much away, I’ll just say that it doesn’t quite make sense until very late in the book.

While overall an enjoyable read, Life After Genius can often be slow and confusing because of the flip-flop nature of the chapters’ time sequences. Upon first reading, the ending may come across as abrupt and disappointing, but after further reflection, Mead’s character study comes to a close as he’s grown literally and figuratively throughout the novel. Plot lines are only tied up in the last few chapters and some of the results may leave you unsatisfied, but overall, I definitely enjoyed rooting for Mead as he learned through the highs and lows of being a “genius.”

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