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Spooner Hardcover – September 24, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, October 2009: Warren Spooner is a sad sack. His mother despises him as the surviving twin from a hideously painful delivery. He's not very smart, and his one redeeming talent--baseball--is nullified by catastrophic injury. He gets into trouble, a lot. Though he manages to organize his life through marriage and a (terrible) job, the self-destructive behavior endures. Fortunately, Pete Dexter--winner of the National Book Award for Paris Trout--provides a calming figure in his step-father, Calmer Ottosson, a man with his own life of promise and disappointment, as well as inexhaustible patience for his wayward ward. Plot's not Dexter's focus--the story ambles through a series of monstrous vignettes projected through unblinking eyes, to the point where the awfulness becomes hilarious and absurd (e.g. a burial at sea gone horribly wrong, complete with erotic misunderstandings). It's like reading Garrison Keillor through a glass of blood: relentlessly dark, yet ultimately affirming. --Jon Foro

From Publishers Weekly

What can you do when your twin brother, dead at birth, is your mother's favorite? This is only one of the burdens placed on young Warren Spooner, the hero of National Book Award–winner Dexter's calamitously funny and riotously tragic new novel. Spooner, who tends toward a life of criminal mischief, turns out to be a baseball phenom, but after an elbow injury puts an end to his pitching career, he ends up a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia, where he's so universally disliked that firing him is at the top of his editor's to-do list. Spooner eventually settles down, becomes a columnist and published novelist, and starts a family. He is dogged, though, by a combination of bad luck and bad judgment, and eventually retreats to Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington State, where he learns that good fences don't necessarily make good neighbors. Spooner's story is juxtaposed with that of his stepfather, Calmer Ottosson, a naval officer turned high school principal, whose dedication to his family is in direct contrast to his stepson's bellicose adventures. Although raggedly plotted, the rambunctious narrative is filled with hilarious scenes, including a naval burial at sea that goes horribly awry, a literary luncheon featuring Spooner and Margaret Truman that ends with a stampede of little old ladies, and a misguided act of vengeance that backfires and puts Spooner in the hospital. The novel's premise—that life is one big vale of tears and that writing about it wittily and exuberantly is the best one can do—might not work in real life, but it pays off in spades for Dexter and his tragicomically conflicted alter ego. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (September 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446540722
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446540728
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 80 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In his latest novel Pete Dexter has created two unforgetable complex male characters way bigger than life. Spooner, a twin who survives, is born in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1956. His mother Lily, who may have been happy only twice in her life-- "the night JFK was elected president, and the day Richard Nixon quit the White House"-- soon loses her husband and Spooner's father Ward to a mysterious illness. A few years later she marries Calmer Ottosson, recently court-martialed out of the navy, who comes South from South Dakota, where most people "wouldn't smile if you gave them the Nobel Prize."

The events in Spooner and Calmer's lives take up most of the rest of this brilliantly comic but a tad-too-long novel (466 pages). Spooner is expelled from kindergarten when he becomes sexually aroused by his female teacher, secretly urinates in the male neighbors' shoes at night, and in high school has no talent for football but relishes collisions. He eventually marries a woman in part because she is someone who would not forsake a dog and becomes a relatively successful newspaper reporter in Philadelphia-- or "staff writer" if you prefer. He is nurtured, sometimes from across the country by Calmer, who holds several thankless positions as a public school teacher over the years and finally winds up teaching English, and has the novel idea that teachers should treat students like human beings. He is, in Spooner's words, "the greatest man he ever knew" and someone whose good opinion he craved more than any other person's.

A lot of other sometimes motley characters pass through the novel: the sadistic Coach Tinker from Spooner's high school; Stroop, his boss in his short stint of selling baby pictures from door to door in Florida; his boxing buddy Harry Faint.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Madison on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the first novels that I can wholeheartedly recommend in a long time. It combines spare details, psychological insight, and perfect comedic timing. It is truly a delight to read.

The format is unusual - a set of short stories, ordered chronologically. The details and descriptions are those that are important to the characters in the scenes. There is no attempt to describe in cinematic detail the workings of the scene in question. Do not expect to learn much about Philadelphia geography or Milledgeville GA politics. I found the sparse descriptions to be a great relief. I was told everything that I needed to know to understand what struck the scene's main character(s) and nothing more. There was no need to visualize the unimportant or ponder the tangential.

A word in defense of this novel against critics, who usually claim one way or or another that the novel is lacking in detail or seems unfinished: this is a writer telling a story in a colloquial fashion, like a storyteller. This book does not tell how to become Spooner. Rather it tells what it is like to be Spooner in several individual moments. Thus no character is explained away - each character retains his/her dignity.

This sort of writing is unpretentious and frees the reader to laugh and ponder along with the book's characters.

If you want a how-to guide that really tells you nothing, watch Batman Begins. If you want a good novel, read this book.
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22 of 30 people found the following review helpful By R. Weinstock VINE VOICE on October 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have heard of National Book Award winner Pete Dexter, but "Spooner" is the first novel by him I have read. Described as a "poignant, and comic story of resilience and love," and the story of lifelong ties behind a troubled young man, Warren Spooner, and his step-father, a once-brilliant young naval officer court-martialed out of the Service after a bizarre incident at sea. While the novel is described as relating to his lifelong struggle to salvage his son, the story does trace the intersection of their careers and how Spooner matures from a delinquent youth engaged in mischief and mayhem to a loving and responsible father. While his step-father attempts to make his son better, Spooner seems to go from situation to situation in a Forrest Gump way and eventually after somehow becoming a newspaper columnist in a city newspaper he seems to mature and become the responsible adult at the same time his step-father's life seems to start sliding down and after his father passes away, this story closes with another quirky scene, this one echoing the bizarre incident that led to the step-father's court martial. It is an amusing, quirky, and moving story that is as much about the rhythms and cycles of life as opposed to the story of one salvaging the life of another.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By New Dexter fan on December 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
My first exposure to Pete Dexter leaves me wanting more. Spooner is a rare novel showing the author's wit and talent. The author shows an impressive skill in showing how one's mind is easily distracted by what is not obvious to most but, is indeed humorous. You can read all the reviews about how the story evolves but, you will miss those moments of greatness throughout. The book will make you want more -- more to better understand how someone can capture the mundane and low parts of life in a manner that is charming, endearing, witty, and your desire to share with others. Highly recommended.
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