MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Batorsag and Szerelem [a.k.a. Beautiful Ohio] (2006)
Ethan Canin
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very sensitively written story about a child, William, who grows up in the shadow of his brother, Clive, who is a math prodigy. Clive, in addition to his strong mathematical skills, is also a very strange cookie (which unfortunately will reinforce the stereotype; he scores two 800s in SAT as a junior but ends up with two 200s as a senior; he can multiply 3768 by 216 in his head, which his worried mother says ‘normal’ people should not be able to do). Socially maladroit, he invents his own language and uses its vocabulary in social settings (the story title comes from that language). Only his friend, Elliot, can understand this other language. As Clive goes on to win competition after math competition, collecting the undying admiration and affection of his parents, William tries to keep up (as he writes,

(quoted from Batorsag and Szerelem [a.k.a. Beautiful Ohio])

“I had always assumed something was wrong with my brother, that something in him was dangerous and perhaps shameful, and that my parents and I were allied to repair it. But now, I first thought of it another way, that I was the one they loved less; that Clive was aloof in order to escape their love, and that I was zealous in order to win it.”

Some nice scenes are written up about William’s interaction with his supportive, wise father (which gives more pathos to the final revelation). It is only in the end that the source of at least part of Clive’s misadjustment is revealed and William writes,

(quoted from Batorsag and Szerelem [a.k.a. Beautiful Ohio])

“I recognized with something like the profundity of religion that this was a sea change in our family and the great unturning of my brother’s life […]. All I could think of was that now was the beginning of my own ascendence. For so long, I had known something was going to happen to Clive, and finally it had. The inevitability of it had always been a half-hidden secret to me, a fact that persisted just beyond where I could give it voice.”

Mathematics is interspersed throughout the story. A coin weighing problem appears, as does an interesting game theory problem from the math competition:

(quoted from Batorsag and Szerelem [a.k.a. Beautiful Ohio])

"Lancelot and Gawain each antes a dollar. Then each cmpetes for the antes by writing down a sealed bid. When the bids are revealed, the high bidder wins the antes and pays the low bidder his low bid. If the bids are equal, they split the pot. How much do you bid, Lancelot?"

(Each player bidding a dollar looks to be a stable equilibrium)

This short story was adapted into a movie, “Beautiful Ohio

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Works Similar to Batorsag and Szerelem [a.k.a. Beautiful Ohio]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Book of Getting Even by Benjamin Taylor
  2. Twenty-seven Uses for Imaginary Numbers by Buzz Mauro
  3. Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen by Kathryn Walat (playwright)
  4. Regarding Roderer by Guillermo Martinez
  5. Young Archimedes by Aldous Huxley
  6. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
  7. Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby
  8. Gifted: A Novel by Nikita Lalwani
  9. The Solitude of Prime Numbers [La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi] by Paolo Giordano
  10. Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley
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Categories:
Genre
MotifProdigies, Anti-social Mathematicians,
Topic
MediumShort Stories, Films,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)