A haunting novel about a brilliant young man who enrolls at a small New England college and becomes entangled in a mysterious death -- and the ultimate scientific quest.
Eric Dunne is a sixteen-year-old academic phenom. Desperate to escape his foster family, Eric graduates early from high school and earns a scholarship to Aberdeen College, a small, prestigious school in northern Connecticut. Aberdeen is a school for the privileged youth of America's elite, an isolated world where hard drinking and hard studying go hand in hand. When Eric is assigned a work-study job with the college's head librarian, Cornelius Graves, Eric begins to hear strange and disconcerting rumors about his new mentor. Despite himself, he is curiously drawn to Cornelius, if only to divine whether it's true that he's searching for the Philosopher's Stone, a mythical substance that supposedly holds the secret to eternal life.
At the same time, Eric's preternatural aptitude for Latin quickly attracts the attention of Arthur Fitch, a charismatic and aloof senior who invites him to become a research assistant for Dr. William Cade, Aberdeen's most celebrated professor. Eric is accepted into Cade's small circle of sophisticated students, all of whom live off campus on Cade's country estate, and soon discovers that his new friends are not just conducting research for Dr. Cade -- they, too, are searching for the Philosopher's Stone. When an alchemical experiment goes fatally wrong, Eric is drawn deeper into the dark secrets surrounding the legendary substance. As the police investigation narrows and Eric gets swept up in Professor Cade's obsession, the tensions on the estate and in Eric's new friendships threaten to explode and, with them, Eric's idealized world.
Like The Secret History and A Separate Peace, Gods of Aberdeen demonstrates the selfishness and savagery that can lie at the heart of the most rarefied academic setting.
In Nathan's somewhat derivative debut (think Donna Tartt's The Secret History, with a little magic thrown in), Eric Dunne, a 16-year-old wunderkind, orphan and autodidact Latin prodigy, escapes New Jersey thanks to a scholarship to Aberdeen College, where his quest for knowledge inevitably comes at a very high price. On the ivied New England campus, Eric dabbles in awkward sexual fumblings and psychedelic drugs, but specializes in the occult, with fatal results. Apprenticed to fossilized academics including head librarian Cornelius Graves and star medievalist William Cade, he also teams up with fellow research assistants Art Fitch, Howie Spacks and Dan Higgins in search of the philosopher's stone, which supposedly holds the key to immortality. Eric and his rumpled, preppy cohorts quote Chaucer at each other, identify with Charlemagne and jet off to Prague in search of a lost alchemical tome. Eric's intellectual musings ("But it was doomed from the start, putting so much faith in knowledge, not realizing that knowledge by itself can be dangerous") share space with awkward exposition and purple description, but Nathan perfectly captures the angst and pretension of adolescents taking themselves very seriously.