Warren Spooner is an underachiever in a remarkable family. As a child, he sneaks around town peeing in people’s shoes and watching things burn in the city incinerator. As an adult, he first becomes a major league baseball player and then a writer, seemingly destined for early demise as he eagerly enters into questionable situations with his boxer pal Stanley Faint. After a string of surgeries, he has enough metal in his body to warrant concern about the weight of his coffin when he eventually dies. There has never been a lovable black sheep quite like Spooner.
His step-father Calmer, a quiet, contemplative ex-naval commander turned teacher, is a constant source of support as Spooner gets older but doesn’t quite grow up. Graciously married to Spooner’s long-suffering mother Lilly, Calmer dutifully arrives in the principal’s office, in Spooner’s hospital room, and eventually spends his dying days defending his adoptive son’s property and sanity in ways perhaps forever unknown to the then-middle aged family man. If Spooner is on an epic journey that spans five decades of difficulty, unemployment, heartbreak, and redemption, then Calmer is his near-constant companion, even when they’re separated by distance and time. The depth of their emotional journeys and the lengths taken to save one another are impossible to sum up in a review of any length.
With a reading group guide included, Spooner is clearly more popular than I realized. It’s no surprise; I happily and confidently place it on a list of the best books of the naughts. A riotously funny, deeply moving instant classic, it will be given as a gift to more than one angsty pal with the hope that Spooner and Calmer’s respective stories of confusion and eventual redemption will resonate in the myriad ways they did for me. Most compelling of all are the similarities between Spooner’s experiences and that of National Book Award-winning author Pete Dexter. My suggestion is to read the book before you research Dexter; otherwise, much will be prematurely revealed.
If you empathize with issues related to family dysfunction, young adult angst, unspoken affection between male family members, and an inability to ever fully mature into a socially functional grown-up, you should not miss this epic journey.