“It’s always the little things. Small notions lost to the complex mind because of their innate simplicity. Ideas beating on the subconscious like sand grains re-depositing themselves on shores until some kid scoops them up and notices that it’s not just some gritty mortar muck. It’s also something much smaller, much simpler. You have to see the big picture to build a sand castle. But you have to appreciate the small picture to understand the sand. I was always pretty smart.”
Genius, written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, traces the story of Ted, a math genius. It is split roughly into two. The smaller, first half covers his early years, when his genius was discovered, and the social difficulties he encountered. The second, main part of the story picks up after he is married with two teenagers of his own. He is struggling at work, his own brilliance hampered by a sick wife, a live-in father-in-law, and his worry that his best work is behind him. Then he finds out that his father-in-law knew Einstein. Einstein, who is a god to physicists. And that maybe Einstein shared some brilliant theory with the father-in-law. A theory he has never spoken.
When I first picked this book up and thumbed through it, I was a little put off. The drawings seemed sketchy with thin, tentative lines and all colored with dull washes of color. The writing looked spindly and hard to read.
And then I actually read it.
The story sucked me in and compelled me to keep reading. The art now seemed completely reflective of the main character’s state of mind. He is feeling tentative and not fully anywhere. His life feels grey. The writing felt like I was reading from his diary. Trying to decipher handwriting felt more like working towards a prize than completing a chore.
Seagle’s writing is a good example of what writing teachers everywhere mean when they exhort you to “show, not tell.” They could use this book as a text. Kristiansen’s art perfectly serves as the descriptive part of the story, showing our main character’s frustration, confusion, and enlightenment though the art.
I particularly liked Seagle’s choice to give Ted two children. The older boy is his opposite in every way. He is popular, has girlfriends, and is an average student. The younger daughter is just hitting adolescence and seems to be much like her father: more socially awkward and showing signs of genius. As Ted struggles with how to be present for his children, he struggles to reconcile with his past as well.
It does occur to me that I connected so well with this book because I am at a similar place in my life. I am not a genius, but I am in my mid-forties with teenagers in the house. I feel that Seagle has captured that state of middle-aged angst admirably.