BY: J J WHITE
According to Dr. Darold A. Treffert of the University of Wisconsin, there are fewer than one hundred reported cases of prodigious savants in the world. Those few who possess the savant syndrome all have an island of brilliance that allows them to excel in some remarkable talent. Unfortunately, they all share various developmental disabilities.
In Burlington, Vermont, 1962, seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma, to awake possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory—and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma.
The odds are slim that Gavin will survive both the internal and external conflicts, which keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Prodigious Savant by J. J. White, Gavin Weaver suffers a severe head injury caused when a dynamite shed explodes. After being in a coma for several weeks, Gavin wakes up with horrific headaches and profound abilities that label him as a savant. He now sees things in his mind in color, like music notes, chess moves, and he is soon known as the whiz kid from Burlington, Vermont. But he also hears God and Jesus giving him instructions that lead him into dangerous and uncharted territory. Being super smart and famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Gavin soon discovers that it will cost him the girl he loves.
Prodigious Savant is intense, fast-paced, and the plot is super-strong. This one is a page-turner, so be sure you have the time to read it before you pick it up, folks, because you won’t be able to put it down once you start.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Prodigious Savant by J. J. White is a first class thriller. It revolves around a young high school athlete, Gavin Weaver, who is seriously injured in an explosion caused by his friend shooting at a skunk near a shed full of explosives. Gavin has just made a date with the girl of his dreams and stops to tell his friend who is target practicing at a construction site. The resulting fireworks kill two people, Gavin’s friend and a young man coming out of a bank, and sends Gavin to the hospital with severe trauma to his brain. When he awakes—after hours of surgery and weeks of being in a coma—he’s a different person, with abilities he neither understands or particularly desires, especially since these new abilities make it difficult to deal with other people. We all think we’d love to have special talents, but sometimes there’s a darker side that is hard to handle.
I thought the book incredibly well-written for a first novel, intricate, and realistic. The plot is strong, the action fast-paced, and there are plenty of surprises awaiting the reader. If you are looking for something to take your mind off your own problems, you can hardly go wrong with Prodigious Savant.
One thing by itself rarely triggers a disaster. Had the construction worker not dropped his banana peel between two boxes of the dynamite he had loaded into the shed, the rat might not have gnawed on the wooden crate, thinking the wonderful aroma was inside and not between the boxes.
And had the rat not left a small pile of sawdust and wood shavings near the box of dynamite, then the bullet might have passed harmlessly into the wood floor of the construction shed.
And had the teenager actually hit his intended target, a curious skunk, then the bullet from his .22 would not have hit the steel box strap, igniting a minute, smoldering fire of the rat’s wood shavings–a fire now creeping ever closer to the box of blasting caps adjacent to sixty-five boxes of dynamite.
The morning air cooled Gavin’s face as he maneuvered his English racing bicycle effortlessly over the small hills on Williston Road. With the Green Mountains behind him and Lake Champlain in front, he coasted downhill. The speedometer pegged its limit of sixty kilometers per hour as he traversed the last hill into South Burlington. He was returning to his point of origin, the campus of the University of Vermont.
This had been his exercise routine for the last four months. In April, he had purchased the bright green Peugeot from Bove’s Cycle downtown. He told Tony Bove how he thought it strange that a French bike could be called an English racer, but as Tony explained, Peugeot had all the latest technological advances of the English racers used in tournaments throughout Europe in the 1961 to ’62 racing season.
Gavin hesitated at the seventy-dollar price, but he eventually capitulated when he saw the perfectly taped ram-horn handlebars and the sophisticated derailleur.
Each weekend since taking ownership of the bike, he set out before sunrise for the University of Vermont to start his excruciating two-hour trek of twenty miles from Burlington to Williston and back again. By the time he reached his turnaround point, his hamstrings ached. With most of the journey finished, he rested ten minutes before heading back on the exhilarating ride toward the campus.
Gavin had just crossed the city line between Williston and his hometown of South Burlington when he buzzed by Sharon Bennett’s Studebaker, also heading toward Burlington. He looked back and smiled at her, then slowed and pulled over to the side of the road, hoping she might do the same. He was crazy about her for several reasons, not the least being that she stood only five feet tall.
He had always liked short girls. Strange, considering he was over six feet. Her other attributes, a good sense of humor and a great figure, certainly helped.
Sharon eased her car to the shoulder of the road. She glared as if she were upset with him for passing her.
“The cops will ticket you if don’t slow down, Mr. Weaver.”
“You’re the one the cops should ticket. That car can do a hundred and you never drive it over forty.”
God, she’s cute. He stooped over and ogled her through the window. She wore a man’s white, long-sleeved dress shirt tied in a knot that exposed her midriff and lifted her breasts. She had on tight blue jeans, the cuffs rolled twice in the latest fashion. Her bare foot rested on a block of wood taped to the accelerator pedal. She probably couldn’t reach it any other way.
“What in the world are you sitting on?”
“Phone books. Father taped the block of wood to the pedal and Mother strapped three old phone books together for me to sit on. If we had more people in this cow town, I’d only need one book.”
“Just be happy you don’t live in Rutland. You’d need four then.”
“Ha–funny. Is that a new bike? It’s ugly as hell.”
“What do you know about bikes? It’s a Peugeot, the fastest French touring bike made. That’s why I passed you so easily.” He clicked the gear into first, hoping she’d notice the complicated derailleur. “What got you up so early?”
“I’m going downtown to the Free Press Building. Their delivery truck broke down, so my brother asked me to drive into town and pick up the bundles for him. You going home when you’re through?”
“Yeah. It’s tough riding toward Williston, but easy heading back until I reach the campus hill.” He lowered his gaze to the road. “You going to the sock hop at Allen Hall?”
“I guess I might go. Is Carol going to be there?”
“I don’t see why she would. I didn’t mention it to her. I’d like you to come if it’s okay with your parents.”
“I’ll be there,” she said, “as long as Carol’s not.” She slid her index finger down his shirt. “Maybe I’ll come by your house later and say hello.”
“Race you into town,” she said.
Gavin sped off on his bike toward the college. It took Sharon just a few seconds to catch and pass him. His comment about her driving must have had something to do with her newly acquired lead foot. As she drove by, she blared the horn and waved her arm excitedly.
At the crest of the last hill into South Burlington, Gavin saw the airport. He thought of two years earlier, when Jack Kennedy had shaken his hand on the tarmac as the Massachusetts senator passed through Burlington on his presidential campaign tour. It was exciting that his country now had a president of Irish heritage. No one was prouder of Jack Kennedy’s accomplishments than Gavin’s mother. She had two pictures on her living-room wall–a portrait of Jesus Christ and a photograph of JFK.
Gavin sped by Al’s French Frys and the Grinder House. Al’s opened after the war and was popular with the teenage crowd. For fifty cents, Al sold you a paper cone of vinegar-soaked fries and a Coke. The Grinder House was better known to Gavin as the hangout where he and Carol made out behind the building, more so than as the place to get the best submarine sandwiches in town.
He slowed the bike when he saw the roofs of the elegant university buildings. To his left was the huge Interstate-89 construction site.
“A cloverleaf connection to Williston Road,” his mother said.
His father, Big Bob, called it Ike’s tank road because, in his opinion, Eisenhower wanted it built to move his tanks from one end of the country to the other without stopping for any damn stoplights. Why did he have to think of his father? Couldn’t he have one goddamn day of peace?
Over his shoulder, he saw his best friend, Steve, with what looked like a BB or pellet gun. He was shooting toward the construction area. It was a Saturday, so Gavin knew little harm would come from Steve’s mischief, since there wouldn’t be any construction workers around to be peppered by BB shot. Gavin walked the bike up the embankment to join his friend.
The Little League game between the South Burlington Braves and the Milton Reds was tied in the sixth with one man on and no outs. Braves manager, Harry Lampson, had no pitchers left in the bullpen. He called Charlie Lawton in from right field.
“Charlie. You ever pitched?”
“No, sir,” Charlie said, staring down at his glove.
“Listen, son. Your dad said you’ve got a pretty good arm.”
“My dad said that?” He took the ball from his manager and squeezed it nervously. He just knew he’d throw up in front of the whole team. He had a sour taste in his throat. “I guess I can try, but I’m not sure I can reach home plate.”
“Just do your best, son. We don’t have much choice. They won’t let me pitch, that’s for damn sure. Now, throw as hard as you can.”
Lampson walked off the field, shaking his head. Charlie had never felt so alone in the world. Atop that mound, he could feel dozens of eyes on him. Just don’t puke, he kept telling himself. The batter stared impatiently, waiting for Charlie to throw warm-ups.
The umpire stood and yelled, “C’mon, kid, throw the ball!”
The batter stepped out of the box to let Charlie throw a few to the catcher. All five fell well short of home plate. Charlie looked over to the dugout and saw his manager covering his face with his hands.
The umpire swept the plate, pointed to Charlie, and yelled, “Play ball!”
Charlie checked the runner at first, went into his wind-up, and flung the ball as hard as he could toward home plate.
Gavin and Steve stood on a hill overlooking the cloverleaf construction site. Steve fired his .22 at anything that moved. They were unaware of the small fire he had caused in the shed with his earlier wayward shot.
“There it is again,” Steve said, pointing to a black blur near the shed. He took aim and fired three times. The dirt in front of the shed kicked up where the bullets hit.
“That’s a cat,” Gavin said. “You’re gonna kill some little girl’s pet.”
“It’s a skunk, wisenheimer. I think I know the difference between a skunk and a cat. Can you imagine what it’ll smell like down there if I hit it?”
“Yeah, it’ll smell like a dead cat.”
Like Steve, Gavin had finished his junior year at South Burlington High. He was a three-sport athlete, tall, square jawed, and blond, with the Irish good looks of his father. He knew he was bright, but he had little enthusiasm for schoolwork. Though he was a C student, most of the faculty thought he’d get accepted to UVM because of his athletic ability.
His proudest memory to date was going all the way with Carol Garner, the school’s head cheerleader. His fame for that feat, so far, overtook his heroics on the field. Steve was also popular, but he wasn’t gifted in sports like Gavin. Gavin knew Steve had also slept with Carol, but he still considered him his friend.
“What do you think of Sharon?” Gavin asked.
“Sharon Bennett. What other Sharon do you know?”
“I dunno. She’s got big bazoobas and kind of a pretty face. Nose is kinda pointy. I guess she’s all right. Why? You like her or something?”
“Maybe. A little bit. I think so, anyway. I mean, she’s great, you know. She’s smart and smiles all the time. Did you ever notice how she smiles all the time? Even when she’s mad or surprised, she’ll smile. It’s cute. And her teeth, they’re bright white so when she smiles it makes you want to smile with her.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“And her head, it always bobs back and forth when she’s talking and–”
“Yeah, like a chicken.”
“No, you know what I mean. Like she’s keen on everything. Really listening to what’s going on, you know?”
“Jesum Crow, you’re hooked.”
“Naw–we’re just going to the hop, that’s all it is.”
“Aren’t you uckfaying Carol? She’s good looking, and she puts out. Why would you wanna give up Natalie Wood for Doris Day? Sharon won’t go to third base. Not a hell’s chance of that, dumbass. Don’t be such a square. Sharon’s a brainiac. Stick with Carol.”
“Maybe I don’t want to. Besides, Carol’s not funny like Sharon. Sharon can make a joke out of anything.”
“Funny like Milton Berle funny, or what?”
“No, you know. Like if somebody trips or something she’ll say, ‘Wow, that guy’s got feet like a duck.’”
“She is to me. I may ask her to go steady.”
“Do what you want to, jerkwad. If you don’t want Carol, I know somebody who does–me.”
“You can have her.”
Steve sighted his rifle. “It went behind the shed.” He fired twice, both shots hitting the window and shattering the panes. Black smoke poured out.
“It’s on fire,” Gavin said. “Why’d you do that? Somebody could be sleeping in there.”
“There’s nobody in there. If there was they would’ve woken up by now.”
Gavin lay on the ground, narrowed his eyes, and studied the shed. A second later it transformed into a massive ball of soil, concrete, and fire.
Steve never saw it disintegrate. One of the planks on the west side of the shed flew the hundred feet up the hill, decapitating him where he stood, his rifle still clutched in his hands. Gavin, because of his prone position, also didn’t see the explosion. The mound directly below him formed into a wave of dirt, propelling him backward down a steep embankment and slamming the left side of his head against a boulder blown out by the blast.
Charlie Lawton couldn’t tell whether the ball he had just thrown to home plate made it all the way there or not. The shockwave of the explosion knocked him off the pitcher’s mound. He felt the ground heave upward slightly as his face lay next to the white rubber strip. A few seconds later, the sound wave boomed over the field, breaking bulbs in the field lights.
Charlie rolled over to see his entire Braves team also lying on the field in shock. Then all eyes turned to stare at the huge cloud of dirt and fire towering above the north end of the ballpark. Several parents ran to their cars and drove off in the direction of the catastrophe.
As Dennis Daley walked out of the First National Bank he was also knocked to the ground when the dynamite exploded. The roar of the blast reached him at almost the same time as the shockwave. He saw an old man lying on the grass lawn in front of the bank. The man’s arm shook as he pointed to the sky above Dennis.
Small rocks and dirt pelted the roof of the bank and the surrounding area. Dennis had moved out from under the old poplar tree to get a better look at the shower when a small black spot in the sky caught his attention. He stared at it, mesmerized by its speed.
Before he had time to react, a large boulder slammed into his chest, rocketing him into the base of the tree. He fell forward onto the boulder then rolled off it, landing face down on the sidewalk.
© 2014 by JJ White