THE NEW YORK TIMES
IT is a truth acknowledged in the Niederhoffer family that a man in possession of six daughters must be in want of a son. The man in question is Victor Niederhoffer, son of a Coney Island cop, who in the mid-1990's was recognized as one of the most successful (and most idiosyncratic) money managers in the nation.
On a recent Sunday his ex-wife, Gail, his current wife, Susan, who is divorcing him, and five of his six daughters -- Galt, Katie, Rand, Artemis and Kira -- gathered for brunch in the airy Chelsea apartment Galt shares with her fiance, James Strouse, and their 19-month-old daughter, Magnolia. (Victoria, the sixth sister, was busy studying great books at St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M.) There were no Niederhoffer sons in evidence, at least not yet.
The sisters packed themselves onto the couch for pictures. Lucky the dog clambered in with them.
''I think my hair looks weird,'' Artemis, known as Artie, said, assessing her high side ponytail with her palms.
Magnolia grabbed Katie's necklace. Rocket, the other rat terrier, stepped into the picture. Galt started singing. Artie whipped out her ponytail. They all leaned on one another, arms wrapped around shoulders, hands in one another's laps. The moms snapped away with their small cameras.
''Don't put your hand on my thigh,'' Rand said to Galt.
Katie said, ''I wish there were a mirror in front of us.''
''Pfft,'' went Galt. ''It's called my book.''
Galt Niederhoffer's first novel, ''A Taxonomy of Barnacles'' (St. Martin's Press), is a kind of modernized Victorian comedy of manners: A wealthy, eccentric patriarch declares, with social Darwinist flourish, that his six daughters must compete for his fortune. Whoever can best carry on the Barnacle name gets the Barnacle cash. Much of the book is devoted to the amorous to-ings and fro-ings of the two eldest (Jewish) Barnacle sisters and the cute (WASP) Finch twins next door. In the end a Barnacle son appears unexpectedly.
Ms. Niederhoffer, 30, has blonde hair, blue eyes and apple cheeks, which is to say that she possesses most of the attributes typically accorded Ivy League squash stars. (She played varsity at Harvard.) And yet, on most days, these enviable elements seem, in Ms. Niederhoffer, to have been thrown slightly out of whack: the skin is a little too pale, the eyes a bit weary, the clothes fitful, unarranged. (The Behnaz Sarafpour dress she wore to her book party at the Players Club was, she said, ''the fanciest dress I've ever worn.'')
Her parents, who are both Jewish, named her after Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and a Victorian polymath who is often called the father of eugenics.
Mr. Niederhoffer maintains that Galton was basically a good guy, a scientific genius who pioneered the concepts of correlation and regression and invented fingerprinting, among other things; why hold him any more responsible than say, Beethoven, for Hitler's hateful use of his legacy?
Galt, however, still wonders: genius or jerk?
''Daddy,'' Ms. Niederhoffer said one recent afternoon as she sat in the library of her father's 20,000-square-foot Connecticut house. ''Why do you think it's a great namesake for a girl?'' At the other end of a long wood table rested a worn volume her father had pulled from his prodigious collection: Charles Darwin's 1869 copy of Francis Galton's ''Hereditary Genius.''
Mr. Niederhoffer, his orange pants blotched with the ink of a renegade pen, wandered out of the room. ''Galt is a great name,'' he called from the hallway. Most things in the Niederhoffer family come back, somehow, to Victor.
Galt said, ''I don't want to demean him,'' meaning her father. ''But he's a very unusual man, unusually bright, kind, and weird.''
''Being born into a family like that and being given a name like Galt doesn't give you much choice to go down the middle road,'' she added.
So what's a girl to do? Get depressed, for a start. Eat Gruyere from Balducci's and pizza from Ray's until, by the age of 12, you weigh 180 pounds. Develop anorexia, temporal lobe epilepsy and panic attacks, and drop out of Harvard during your junior year. Go to therapy. Then, perhaps, write a book.
The Barnacles of her novel are eccentric, to be sure, but delightfully so. They seem to suffer so little.
Ms. Niederhoffer has dusted the pages of her novel with references to Darwin, filled it with unsettling but not terribly painful genetic twists, and fictionalized the unruly narrative of life into something palatable if not too deep. ''If I wrote the true story of my family, it would have been darker,'' she said. ''The mother would have been drinking Absolut vodka from a paper cup. I would have found her on the kitchen floor when I was 5. I would have known about all my father's philandering before his wives did. I would have been in and out of hospitals. This was wish fulfillment. This was me transposing myself into the fiction of Jane Austen.''
THE first sign that something is awry amid the quaint winterish trees and low stone fences leading to the Niederhoffer estate, which is nestled on 13 acres of some of Connecticut's finest woodlands, is the animal sculpture: a bull, a bear and an alligator rise from the grass. The front door is flanked by mosaic horses.
The house itself is a kind of Victorian dream castle, and its many rooms are stuffed with evidence of an irrepressible, eclectic mind. One room is filled with shells, another with antique toys. Just about every available inch of wall space is crowded with American folk art.
Mr. Niederhoffer, a former national squash champ and protege of George Soros with a penchant for seersucker suits from Lands' End, has commissioned folkloric paintings of his key life events: calling in trades from the delivery room; getting arrested at a town meeting in Westport, Conn., his father's piano lessons in a Bronx brothel.
In 1997 bad bets on the baht, the Thai currency, and the United States equity market led to a fall as stupendous as his rise had been. Mr. Niederhoffer auctioned off the contents of his silver vault (including a five-foot horn of plenty once owned by Charles XV of Sweden), took out a mortgage on his house and slowly set about building a new firm, Manchester Trading, which speculates in stock index futures and options.
Neither he nor any of his co-workers, a gaggle of taut analysts with nicknames like Doc and Mr. Wiz, wear shoes. The trading rooms are on the upper story of Mr. Niederhoffer's home, which he shares with his soon-to-be ex-wife Susan and two of their four daughters
The organizing principle of the house seems to be the pile: there are piles of clothes in the master bedroom, piles of shoes in the foyer and piles of books just about everywhere. Some kind of scientific experiment with geraniums is being conducted in the kitchen window.
There is only one television set, without cable, buried in the basement. There are hobby horses, four refrigerators, an old Wurlitzer, ancient books bound in gold leather, unfinished electrical experiments: all of which is to say that the place is a far cry from the reigning aesthetic of Fairfield County.
''A lot of my friends' parents have more money than my dad, but they still have these white houses,'' Artie, 18, a senior at the Hopkins School in New Haven said as she sat in the library with Galt. ''I have to know friends for at least 10 years before I bring them here.''
Galt said she settled on five-year waiting period for most people. ''I felt constant, overwhelming exclusion from normalcy as a child,'' she said. ''I grew up feeling like a freak.''
To the world at large, however, Galt looks not just normal, but blessed. She grew up on East 62nd Street (her father built the Connecticut estate after he and Galt's mother divorced) and attended Chapin and Milton Academy. After she dropped out of Harvard, she got an internship at the French Film Office in New York, and along with her boss, Gill Holland, started a production company they financed with money from rich people they knew, Mr. Niederhoffer among them. Their first film, ''Hurricane Streets,'' won three awards at Sundance. By the age of 23, she had produced seven movies.
She went back to Harvard in 2001, at 26, and soon after she graduated was a founded an indie film production company, Plum Pictures. (Ms. Niederhoffer says her parents did not invest in Plum Pictures, but do subsidize her living expenses.)
THAT resume is enough to make some people wonder if her pedigree or her prose has earned her acclaim. One reviewer from The New York Observer suggested, scathingly, that Ms. Niederhoffer's connections prevented reviewers from writing the truth, that ''the emperor (Jewish princess?) has no clothes.''
It's a question that Ms. Niederhoffer, in her weaker moments, seems to ask herself: ''How much pride do you have for someone who is self-made -- which is why I idolize my father,'' she said. ''And how much shame do you have for being born into privilege. Are you deserving?''
She continued, ''You could say, 'You were born with a silver spoon, and you kept on eating.' From my perspective I felt like an impostor. I was a Jew among WASP's assimilating, a fat girl among skinny girls, dieting.''
In recent weeks Niederhoffer family life has taken a surprising turn toward Barnacle family fiction, which became clear to Galt in January, over lunch with her father at the Four Seasons. They sat in the pool room and he told her, ''Galt, there is something in your book that's oddly prescient.''
That something is a son. In Ms. Niederhoffer's book, the contest for the Barnacle fortune ends with the surprise appearance of a male heir.
And now, thanks to science -- and more particularly thanks to Francis Galton, if you, like Mr. Niederhoffer, credit him with pioneering genetic engineering as well as eugenics -- Mr. Niederhoffer will finally beget a boy.
To do this he enlisted the services of an egg donor and a surrogate mother. Once the child is born, Mr. Niederhoffer will raise him with a new girlfriend, whom at least one of the Niederhoffer daughters has referred to as the ''home wrecker.''
The specter of the missing male heir looms large in Niederhoffer family mythology. Back in the library Artie said: ''Just saying he had the kid because he wanted a boy is the easiest thing, but it's deeper than that. None of us followed in his footsteps. Maybe he's trying for another chance at that, for someone to become a squash champion.''
Galt said softly, ''He didn't want you to be a boy, Artie.''
If history is any guide, the Niederhoffers will stitch themselves together again. Both Victor and Gail say they are best friends; Gail attended Victor and Susan's wedding.
''The way he has gone about this is destructive,'' Susan said. ''But I'm sure in 5 or 10 years, the boy will be part of our family.''
Victor ''never would have been the top squash player, he never would have had the top-performing hedge fund, he never would have been able to accomplish all that unless he tuned out what other people think,'' she continued. ''This is the flip side of that. He has always been determined to get what he wants.''
Ask Galt if her father wanted a son, and she will tell you that when Magnolia was born, he said, ''Well, at least she's healthy.'' (''We forgive him,'' she added. ''It's like he's from another planet.'')
Ask Mr. Niederhoffer's wives if he wanted a son, and they will say yes. Ask Mr. Niederhoffer himself, and he'll say: ''I love my children. A daughter is just as good as a son.''
Mr. Niederhoffer acknowledged that he could, technically speaking, have tried to increase the chances that his seventh child would be a boy. Did he? ''No comment,'' he said, and pounded up the stairs, back to the trading room.
Aubrey Darwin is due on May 30.