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Authors: Kristy Kiernan

Catching Genius

Table of Contents
“Kristy Kiernan bursts from the gate with this skillful rendering of a family's reckoning with its painful past. Kiernan peels away the layers in a lilting and luminous voice, exposing strata after strata of family secrets made murkier by the passage of time. Kiernan proves she's a writer to watch—find a comfortable spot, turn off the phone, and lose yourself in this gorgeous debut.”
—Sara Gruen,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Water for Elephants
Riding Lessons
, and
Flying Changes
“Kristy Kiernan's fluent storytelling and fully drawn, credible characters make for an affecting novel. With effortless grace, her lyrical prose drops the reader into scenes rich with details and powerful emotions.
Catching Genius
is a stunning debut that will leave readers of Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve clamoring for more from this talented author.”
Tasha Alexander, author of
And Only to Deceive

Catching Genius
is the real thing: a rich, compelling, and deeply nuanced story delivered in language that's as luminous as it is authoritative. To judge by this affecting first novel, I'd say Kiernan's the real thing, too.”
Jon Clinch, author of
“With precise and evocative prose, Kristy Kiernan weaves a story of family and history that is as nuanced and finely wrought as it is compelling.
Catching Genius
draws you in with its genuine characters, and it holds you there with its truthful exploration of the enduring bonds of love and family . . . This affecting novel shines a new light on the concept of genius—what it is and what it isn't. And speaking of genius, Kristy Kiernan looks like a debut novelist who will be around for a long time to come.”
Elizabeth Letts, author of
Family Planning
Quality of Care
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Kristine Kiernan.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
BERKLEY is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Berkley trade paperback edition / March 2007
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kiernan, Kristy.
Catching genius / Kristy Kiernan
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-0-425-21435-0
1. Sisters—Fiction. 2. Gifted children—Fiction. 3. House selling—Fiction.
4. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
PS3611.I4455C'.6—dc22 2006050496

For my husband,
Richard W. Kiernan,
who makes everything right . . .
And in memory of the two finest women
I've ever had the honor of knowing:
Ruth P. Smith
Mary Ellen Kiernan
The editor who originally bought this book remained largely unknown to me. Thank you, Leona Nevler, I will always remember that you gave me a shot.
Luckily for me,
Catching Genius
was bravely taken over by Jackie Cantor, whose wise and deftly expressed ideas were an education as well as an inspiration.
Thank you, Anne Hawkins, my agent, who makes me laugh, keeps me informed, is loyal, tough, and kind, and sent squeaky toys to my dog.
Reva Youngstein, flutist for the Gainsborough Trio based in New York, was incredibly generous with her knowledge and experience. Thank you.
Thanks to David Groisser, Associate Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator for the Department of Mathematics at the University of Florida, and to Janna Underhill, who put me in touch with him. Janna also has a lot of titles after her name, but for over twenty years I've been honored to simply call her friend.
My heartfelt gratitude to: my critique partner, Sara Gruen, who read more drafts than I'm sure she wants to remember; Tasha Tyska, who kept me sane with her sharp sense of humor and unflagging loyalty; Barb Meyers, who kept me fed and watered; Tanya Miller, who made me leave my house and be a human being at least once a month; and B.S.R., for the use of the most beautiful mountain cabin during the writing of this novel.
The following talented writers offered support in various forms, and I am eternally grateful: Zarina Docken, Jon Clinch, Sachin Waikar, Rachel Cole, Sandra Kring, Camille Kimball, Gail Konop Baker, Terez Rose, and Elizabeth Letts.
Thank you to The Debutantes: Tish Cohen, Mia King, Jennifer McMahon, Anna David, and Eileen Cook. They are an inspiration.
Thank you to my grandfather, Robert E. Smith, for setting a story-teller's example and for being excited for me. Thanks to the Claiborne family for their interest and good wishes. The Kiernan family has been extraordinarily kind and supportive; a special thanks to Elizabeth Kiernan, my mother-in-law, for her countless everyday kindnesses.
Thank you to my mother, Judy Claiborne. There is no doubt that I wouldn't have become a writer without having developed a love of books, and she is solely responsible for that. I love you. I miss you. Be well.
And finally, because, yeah, I
the sort of writer who thanks her dog, thank you to Niko, who is convinced that I am the perfect companion, when it is quite clearly the other way around.
If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Constance Belle Sykes
Our real lives were lived in the dark. Late at night, every night, we met in the music room, stealthily avoiding the scarred legs of the piano, the stringless harp, the
⁄8-size Mittenwald balanced upon the violin stand as if waiting for a musically inclined fairy. No childish night-light cast shadows across the wallpaper; only the moon, streaming through the skylight to glow upon the yellowed piano keys, lit our play.
Some nights there was no moon at all—though Estella patiently explained to me that it was still there, we just couldn't see it because Earth had shoved its wide, round self between the moon and the sun, a social bully forcing its way into an ancient conversation—and we would reluctantly crack the door to allow the light of our parents' downstairs lives in.
We were precocious children, promising children, healthy children. At seven, Estella was tall enough to reach everything we'd ever need and smart enough to know what we could get away with. And I, younger by two years, was quick enough to flee, small enough to hide, and beguiling enough to lie convincingly.
And though we didn't know it at the time, we were wealthy children, the great-great-grandchildren of lumber baron Nathaniel Austin Sykes. A sound track of important conversation accompanied those nights we left the door cracked for light. Illustrious people: politicians, university presidents, eminent board members of museums and cultural centers, all came looking for that old, rapidly dwindling money. They laughed too loudly at our father's jokes, exclaimed over our mother's beauty, greedily ran their eyes over the volumes of rare books filling the library shelves, and scuffed their shoes against the tight nap of the Bokhara rugs.
We had the run of the upstairs on those nights. The nanny, pressed into service in the kitchen, left us alone, and the noise of the dinner covered the drumroll of our feet as we rushed from the music room to the top of the stairs and back as proof of our daring.
Sometimes we eavesdropped, glancing at each other with big eyes when we heard our father swear or our mother tell a bawdy joke. And we heard things our parents did not, like remarks about our father's age and thinning hair, and our mother's youth and lush figure. The men were as guilty as the women, and we even heard our own names in those catty conversations, about how spoiled we were and how we would grow up without ever learning to appreciate hard work.
I knew what spoiled was. Kimmy Kay Watson down the street was spoiled. She got not one, but
ponies for her sixth birthday, one for her friends to ride and one that she never had to share. I asked for a pony for my fifth birthday and got a tattered first edition of
Little Women
instead. So I knew I was not spoiled.
Our eavesdropping never lasted for long; we had our own rituals to attend to. We always danced first, a childish shag that our mother taught us, twining our hands together and awkwardly flinging ourselves away and then toward each other, tethered by fingers gone numb. When we finally broke apart, panting, I followed her lead, as I had ever since I could crawl after her. Sometimes we played Alligators in the Carpet, sometimes The Witch in the Attic, sometimes Schoolteacher and Brilliant Pupil or, when I got my way, Superhero Twins.

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