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Spooner Hardcover – September 24, 2009
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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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The book is written as haphazardly as the character Spooner thinks. I don't know if this was intentional, but I found myself getting very annoyed as I tried to follow what was going on. At the end of the book, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that it was finally over. If it hadn't been chosen as a book for our book club to read, I would have given up less than halfway through.
I found it especially difficult to relate to any of the characters. Perhaps the author thought that Spooner would be a loveable yet awkward character? His stepfather Calmer is much the same way, somewhat awkward, although with more common sense and intelligence. I really wanted to find at least one character that I could root for, yet I found none. I held out for the ending, hoping that there would be some revelation between the characters and there was just nothing there.
If you don't care about a well-orchestrated timeline, this may be the book for you. There were certainly some stories that I greatly enjoyed (especially The Fiend), but I found most of those to be during Spooner's childhood. The rest of the time, most (mis)adventures just made me feel uncomfortable.
Having said that, I enjoyed Spooner very much. Parts are serious, parts are funny, and, as was stated in a quote on the cover, it is a Garpian tale (as in "The World According to Garp", I assume). It is also a very different book than Paris Trout.
My only knock is that the arc of the story ended up too much in Calmer's head at the end and it sort of ran down like wind-up toy rather then dropping off a cliff, as you might expect from the rest of the plot. In that Spooner's life was always thrust upon him and he was mostly along for the ride, the ending is true to the rest of the book and Dexter certainly would have betrayed the story with a neat and tidy ending.
All in all, it's a great read. You'll walk away with at least three or four new 'one liners' stuck in your world view.
Most recent customer reviews
I was born the same year as Spooner was, so could relate to his life and times.Read more