It happens rarely, but it does happen: me reading in German. "Fast genial" by Benedict Wells was recommended to me by my Mum, and as we often have a similar taste in books, I wasn't surprised to find that this one really was a good read.
The author is not yet thirty and wrote his first novel at 19. He was born in Munich and moved to Berlin after finishing school; nowadays, he divides his time between Barcelona and Munich, the back of the book informs me.
"Fast genial" means "almost ingenious" (our "genial" and the English "genial" are not the same). And the title fits:
18-year-old Francis has never known his father. He and his mother, a single mum with problems of depression you can't help feeling sorry for, share a shabby trailer somewhere in New Jersey and the little money they are able to scrape together from various small jobs whenever they are able to work (his Mum because of her problems and Francis because working hours have to fit around school).
When he's had to take his Mum (once again) to a psychiatric clinic, during his many visits there he meets and falls in love with Anne-May, a girl who is there because she has attempted suicide. When his Mum tries to kill herself, Francis finds her just in time - and he also finds her good-bye-letter to him. In that letter, she tells him about his father for the first time: He was a genius, and Francis was born as part of a genetic experiment.
Now Francis wants to find his father; he is convinced that everything, his entire life, will take a turn for the better if he manages to see him and speak to him. Together with his best friend, nerdy Grover, and Anne-May, he sets out on a trip across the U.S. from New Jersey to the West Coast.
Will he find his father? This question and what will happen then are central to the story, but by no means the only important part. The trip itself is equally important, and how the relationships between the three friends develop.
As the reader, you really want to know what is going to happen next, and you do care about Francis, although not so much about his friends (at least that was how I felt about them). The writing style is modern but not ridiculously so; the characters and the way they talk are credible.
As far as I could find out, none of Benedict Wells' books have yet been published in other languages, which is a shame, because I think that not only readers of German would enjoy this.
What I don't quite get about the book is the choice of cover illustration: it is a painting by David Hockney, "Rainy Night on Bridlington". Now, Bridlington is on the coast up in Yorkshire, a place that does not feature at all in the book, w hich is set entirely in the U.S. But I guess they just wanted to show the melancholy mood or something. I wonder whether the author had any say in it.