Thursday, October 16, 2014

Prodigious Savant-J.J. White

Prodigious Savant
J.J. White
Black Opal Books, Sep 23 2014, $12.99
ISBN: 9781626941878

While JFK occupies the White House, in Burlington, Vermont, high school friends Steve Simpson and Gavin Weaver chat by the nearby I89 construction site.  Steve fires at what he assumes is a skunk; but seemingly minor events started by an errant toss of a banana peel before his shot leads to a massive explosion.  Steve is decapitated, Gavin suffers a head injury and Dennis Daley far from the explosion dies from falling debris.  The crater becomes the most popular tourist attraction in the state.

Dr. Adams performs emergency surgery on Gavin.  After weeks in a coma, Gavin begins to recognize visitors through color patterns before finally awakening.  Gavin’s knowledge of the previous few days surprises Adams; as does his obsessive need to bring order to things.  Brain trauma expert Dr. Weir tests Gavin and concludes the teen is a unique high-functioning savant with expertise at chess, speed reading, math, copying classic paintings and playing the piano like a maestro.  However, while Gavin becomes the media darling “Whiz Kid”, he also struggles with a violent side as his sister Judy and his new girlfriend Sharon Bennett learn first-hand.

This is an enthralling 1960s medical thriller in which J.J. White deftly uses real events (for instance, the interstate highway construction) and societal acceptable norms (i.e., Dr. Adams smoking in Gavin’s hospital room) to set the time.  Gavin’s adjustment struggles make for a taut character-driven drama though the edginess somewhat abates late in the plot when Prodigious Savant veers towards a more typical suspense; even with magnificent late Texas and WWII spins.  This is an enjoyable read.

Harriet Klausner

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