Although they've sneakily left it offline, this week's New Yorker
has one of the best essays I've ever read in a New Yorker
: "Prairie Fire: The life and death of a prodigy."
If I were choosing Best American Essays 2006
it'd be an easy choice; since I'm not, you should probably just play it safe and read the issue. If you're not a subscriber, it's the cover that has a snowman walking into his brightly-lit yellow home, while his wife sits reading by a crackling fire.
He's an early paragraph that should give you a sense of why this story is so compelling, whether you were smacked with the Gifted Hammer as a child or not:
Their son had killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22-calibre rifle. It was his own varmint gun, which he'd been using on intrusive skunks since he was ten years old. He had been shooting since he was six, an early age at which to become aquainted with a firearm, but almost from the time of his birth the Bremmers had known that he was exceptionally precocious. "He was born an adult, basically," Patti said. "He chose when he would wean himself. I wanted to nurse for a full year, but at eleven months he crawled into the kitchen and motioned for a cup." Though Brandenn didn't talk until fifteen months, Patti said, "he started right off speaking in complete sentences." He potty-trained himself at eighteen months and memorized an entire book of "Mother Goose" nursery rhymes when he was two and a half. At the age of four, he drove a tractor that had a hand-controlled throttle and gearshift, and once, when he was eight, he sat on his father's lap and drove family car home from town.
Brandenn was known as a child prodigy by almost everybody in this part of Nebraska. When he was a little boy, his IQ was scored at 178, and his parents decided to make sure that he was adequately engaged and challenged. They homeschooled him, and when he was six years old they enrolled him in high school through a distance-learning course at the University of Nebraska. He was ten when he finished, in 2001, the youngest graduate in the history of the program.
The Blog of Death
has an obituary for Brandenn, as does The New York Times
-- but you should really read the New Yorker