An account of the improbable life of a genius.
Conn’s debut novel ranges over many different places—Washington, D.C., Mexico—and themes—the world of business to domestic life. Through it all, Conn grounds his novel in vivid descriptions of the West Texas setting and a cast of well-rounded characters. Lawrence “Bucky” Roebuck is a charming protagonist of whom Conn writes, “In his struggling, in his exuberance—in the cinematic flicker of his own truncated life—the man engendered one of mankind’s great ideas.” The story of that great idea is bound up in the rest of Bucky’s life, and though he’s a genius who breezes his way through Stanford, beginning at age 14, as though it were a hobby, Conn writes him in such a way that he is entirely relatable. He’s far from the cold and distant stereotype of the prodigy. Grief and love are far more important in motivating his actions than intellectual curiosity. His relationship with Maria, a woman who serendipitously arrives to pull him out of severe alcoholism, is genuine. This tale of love, genius and betrayal is bookended by events that leave orphans; indeed, as wide-ranging as it is in subject matter, the novel thoroughly examines how people forge their lives in the absence of parents. Bucky’s childhood and the deaths of his parents humanize him; Maria’s story of abandonment and adoption makes the family she and Bucky create together even more fragile and beautiful. Consumed by the problem of his father’s death and his attempt to invent a device to prevent others from dying in the same way, Bucky neglects his needs for food and sleep, let alone for the company of the woman he loves. It’s that same all-consuming focus that ultimately leads Bucky to miss the signs of impending betrayal from a friend and business partner.
A compelling alternate history deftly told.