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or How I Discovered Sex, Deception, and a New Theory of Physics in Three Short Months

by Barry Targan

Pub Date: June 1st, 1991
ISBN: 1-56025-009-7

 Targan's second novel (after Kingdoms, 1980)--about the freshman year of a boy-genius faced with exploitation--takes aim at easy targets in prose that is sometimes flat, while the aim is true and, at its best, zany. Narrator Nick Burden, only 16, is a superboy with an intelligence no IQ test can measure. His sweet parents deposit him in a dorm room at a New England college, and he's drenched with sharply etched stereotypes: roommate Mike Tremain is a budding entrepreneur with money-making schemes; Tod Culver is the scientist with a lab that is always lit ``just like in the first second after the Big Bang''; William Appleton is the wild-eyed English prof; and Sara Vogan is the student reporter hot for fame. Nick meets them all and ``begins to imagine the universe God would imagine and create.'' He also discovers art, especially Bruegel and Bosch (``And I could not do it quickly''). Exposition in place, then, Targan shifts into high gear: a bigwig professor tries to recruit Nick for Princeton; Sara sleeps with him; Mike hawks personal appearances (as well as the Nick Burden Tutoring Service); and things turn sour--Culver steals his notes and presents the ``Tangerine Tango'' as his own; Appleton writes a booklength essay on a prodigy, stealing Nick's words; Sara sells glossies to the tabloids; and Mike, secretly selling cocaine, gets both of them arrested, leading to a dark night of the soul that Nick survives by dropping out (before penning ``this lingua franca of love''). A quest fable of the Holden Caulfield variety with some cleverly cosmic pseudo-science added in before the naive and sympathetic hero discovers life's secret: ``At last, having failed significantly, now I could begin.''