Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Warren Spooner was trouble even before he was born. Spooner weighed in at all of five pounds when his mother finally pushed him in out into the world after spending 53 hours in labor that first week of December 1956. He arrived only a few seconds after his more handsome twin brother and, even though his twin never took a breath, Spooner knew that his dead brother would always be his mother’s favorite child.

As difficult a child as he was to give birth to, Spooner’s mother found him an even more difficult one to raise, especially in contrast to his near genius siblings. However much Spooner may have struggled with reading and writing, however, he had certain skills of his own. At four years old, for example, he discovered a talent for breaking into the homes of his Milledgeville, Georgia, neighbors during the night, peeing into their shoes before placing them in their refrigerators, and making a clean getaway.

This little guy with such great potential in the field of home break-ins, though, was fatherless, leaving a hole in his family that would soon be filled by one Calmer Ottosson. Ottosson was a formal naval officer who managed to make such a fiasco of a congressman’s burial at sea that he was looking for a fresh start when he arrived in little Milledgeville. With Spooner, he got more than a fresh start; he would spend the rest of his life trying to salvage his new stepson.

Spooner is not a plot driven novel. Rather, it focuses on a series of events in the lives of Warren Spooner and his stepfather, often with significant gaps of time and experience between one event and the next. The steady passage of time, spread over more than 500 pages, though, results in a dual biography of two men whose lives were closely tied together for decades. The two first meet when Calmer begins to court four-year-old Spooner’s mother and they are still close when Calmer, suffering from early signs of dementia, is taken into Spooner’s home for the remainder of his life.

Along the way, the two, especially Spooner, do a lot of living, and the reader comes to care for both of them. Life would never be dull for Spooner; he makes sure of that via a series of reckless, spur-of-the-moment decisions that sometimes seem likely to kill him or drive him nuts. But Calmer is always there to help pick up the pieces and, when it counts most, Spooner is there for Calmer.

Pete Dexter has done a masterful job with Spooner, filling it with laugh-out-loud absurdity at times and with tear-jerking tragedy at others. Readers will have to decide for themselves if they are reading a comedy or a tragedy, something I am still trying to figure out for myself. Comic tragedy, anyone? How about tragic comedy? Either way, this one is definitely fun.

Rated at: 5.0

(Advance Reader Copy provided by Grand Central Publishing)

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