27 January 2010

The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash

Flap Copy: "Claire's father always said that in their family, genius skipped a generation. Maybe he was right. The daughter of a legendary landscape photographer and the mother of a painter whose career is about to take off, Claire has carved out a practical living as a commercial photographer. It may not earn her glory, but it's paid for a good life in a beautiful house on the beach.

When her father suddenly dies, Claire loses faith in the work she has devoted her life to - and worse, begins to feel jealous of her daughter's success. But as she helps prepare a retrosopective of her famous father's photographs, Claire uncovers revelations about him that change everything she believes about herself as a mother, a daughter, and an artist ..."

This book was a quick read, and I found myself grateful for that. I think Nash took on two very real problems - grieving for the death of a parent while still trying to parent one's own children, and struggling as an adult to find a place in the world and in one's own life - but she let the characters slip too deeply into cliched speech and behavior. It's very interesting to consider the ways in which parents injure their children, often without realizing, and the ways that childhood events linger in memory and influence adult behavior. But in my opinion Nash's characters were more annoying than compelling, their dialogue stilted and their emotions overdrawn.

Nash's exploration of the nature of creativity was definitely the most interesting aspect of this book for me - she questions whether we are all born with a seed within us that some people are just better equipped (or enabled) to express, or whether some people have genius and some just don't. Claire is a successful commercial photographer, but compared to her father's iconic work her successes seem insubstantial. She is haunted by his greatness, as well as by her daughter's seeming genius - did she get left out of the creative gene pool?

This book had potential, and definitely tackled some interesting questions; I just don't think Nash executed her ideas to the best of her intentions. The novel wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either - I give it 2.5 stars, I think I could find much better chick lit or family drama without too much effort.

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