I have SO MANY FEELINGS about this book. It’s one that is nearly impossible to rate because while the writing is high quality, there are characterization problems that make me want to turn the book on its side and launch it like a Frisbee. Preferably into a lake.
My first and biggest beef is with how the female characters are developed, or rather, not developed. Main character and math genius Milo Andret is smart. So smart, we are led to believe, that the women in his life are totally fine being alternately condescended to and ignored by him. His long-suffering wife is described several times as “saintly,” as if repeatedly setting aside her own talents and dreams in order to serve her alcoholic husband’s whims is a trait to be admired in a woman. His daughter, who is by all accounts smarter than her brother, still gets the short end of the stick when it comes to fatherly attention (after all, what genius mathematician has time to parent a lowly girl?), and when she dares to point out the imbalance, is portrayed as whiny and petulant.
Throughout the book, Canin’s thesis seems to be that Andret’s genius brings with it inevitable character flaws that everyone around him must tacitly accept because they are genetically predetermined. It may be true that intelligent people aren’t the best at relating to others, even that they tend toward narcissism. However, I refuse to accept genius as an excuse for being a shitty person. I happen to be married to a brilliant man myself, and never once has it crossed my mind that his smarts make him above the rules of human decency. I mean, I’m super impressed that he passed differential equations, but the dishwasher still needs unloaded.
Yet time and again, despite Andret’s total lack of regard or care for them, his family members rally around him, putting up with verbal and physical abuse, nursing him through the effects of addiction, and constantly thinking about his feelings. We’re somehow supposed to believe that there’s something about Andret, some unnamed quality that makes everyone around him capable of unconditionally loving him. And in the world Canin has created, “love” looks a hell of a lot like “enabling.”
If anybody ever needed tough love (and a swift kick in the ass), it’s Milo Andret. If I could find a way to jump into the pages of A Doubter’s Almanac, I would gladly deliver it myself.
With regards to Random House and NetGalley for the review copy. On sale now.