Late in his novel, Pete Dexter writes that his main character, Warren Spooner, sees himself as "the full grown, still loveable mongoloid child doing his best but mucking up the works for the thousandth time". With all the sympathy a wry observation can muster, Tom Stechschulte delivers this and every other line in the story with the empathy and pity necessary to maintain the listener's compassion for Spooner. He's a character that's unforgivably dim at times, clueless about cause and effect in his own life. But Spooner is also loveably unaware. What could be read as uncultured or uninterested comes across as sweetly naïve and endearingly ignorant. Aiding the uphill battle to turn stupidity into charm is Stechschulte, who sounds downright Jeff Lebowski-like at times. The similarities between Jeff Bridges' California drawl and Stechschulte's laidback, almost non-committal narration are many, but only serve to underline Spooner's characteristics. Stechschulte's voice is never too dry to mask the emotions that well up throughout the novel, and by the end you'll find yourself inching closer to breaking down in tears with each microscopic, perfectly timed inflection of his performance.
This book may be about Spooner's life growing up first in the Midwest and later settling on the east coast, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it's more about Calmer Ottosson, Spooner's steady handed stepfather. Calmer is a presence throughout the novel, even in the large patches where he's missing from the action. He's an ex-Navy guy with a cool head and a knack for soft, but firm leadership as a father who raises Warren from the time he's four years old. Always there for the son who stands too close to the fire, gets in trouble with stinging ants, and then later in life as Spooner is laid up in a hospital after a severe physical beating, Calmer is the definition of, well, calm. While never spoken out loud, there's a special relationship between Spooner and his stepfather that extends past family and veers into an almost spiritual kinship. For two distinctly different characters, this is as much a surprise to them as it is to the listener. But Pete Dexter sells this story slowly and almost imperceptibly. After some unfortunate setbacks late in his life, Calmer moves in with his stepson. The father becomes the son, and the son becomes the father. So while you're not shocked that Spooner realizes, despite a life of striking out on his own, that he "craved the good opinion of his stepfather more than he could ever admit, and felt the chance to find out where he stood with him slipping away", you're still touched by this revelation. Spooner is never ham-fisted or foisted upon the reader rather it is a subtle and emotionally heartfelt story drawn out over great lengths and with great results. Josh Ravitz
Warren Spooner was born after a prolonged delivery in a makeshift delivery room in a doctor's office in Milledgeville, Georgia, on the first Saturday of December, 1956. His father died shortly afterward, long before Spooner had even a memory of his face, and was replaced eventually by a once-brilliant young naval officer, Calmer Ottosson, recently court-martialed out of service.
This is the story of the lifelong tie between the two men, poles apart, of Spooner's troubled childhood, troubled adolescence, violent and troubled adulthood, and Calmer Ottosson's inexhaustible patience, undertaking a life-long struggle to salvage his step-son, a man he will never understand.
©2009 Pete Dexter; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"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." (Publishers Weekly)
I really enjoyed the character & story development in this novel. Some of the characters were unusual, but their trials and tribulations were interesting and they had emotional depth. Tom Stechschulte's narration was fantastic. His timing and varied voices for the various characters was perfect for both the serious and the humorous scenes. He made the book come alive.
I had read a review of this book and went looking for it. It was a touching, gentle story of family and relationships that span years. The characters are endearing and you find yourself rooting for them every step of the way. Pete Dexter manages to weave humor and irony throughout the various stories that make up this book. I found myself laughing out loud as I walked my dog, drove my car, and just enjoyed being told this tale. Excellent narration, totally absorbing.
I enjoyed this book from the start. I couldn't stop listening. I love listening to Tom Stechschulte and this is such a great story. Spooner is so lovable and this book was very interesting to listen to.
I listened to the book after it was mentioned on NPR by a featured Librarian that summarized books she called "below the radar screen". I'm so glad I heard he recommendation.
The book has very interesting characters and really keeps your attention. The narrator was extremely good.
I chose to read Spooner based on a four star review/synopsis in Bookmarks magazine. Then, listening to the sample of the Stechschulte narration, I couldn't resist the audio. He's gruff and fabulous. Perfect for this book.
At first I thought this was going to be simply a tall tale but I was surprised to learn that Spooner is semi-autobiographical! Hard to believe the decisions some people make, but there it is.
Some incidents are laugh-out-loud funny but there is quite a bit of angst in this tale. Some people may be offended by some of the language, although it's pretty mild by today's standards.
One thing I can say is that the story never loses your interest. It is fascinating, insightful and maddening but in the end, a great story. You may never put your shoes on again without thinking of Spooner.
How often do you listen to a book and laugh out loud. This book by Pete Dexter is quite a departed from his other books, which I found excellent, but dark. After listening to it for awhile I realized that it was taken from events in his life. What a ride, and as others have said, the narration is perfect.
3 1/2 stars. Spooner is entertaining, it held my interest, and I enjoyed it. Some parts are very funny. The author is a good writer, especially with descriptions and dialogue. There isn't much of a plot. It's more like a lot of vignettes about things that happen to Spooner and his stepfather throughout their lives. Some of these were fun to listen to, but I would have enjoyed it more if there was a more cohesive story the whole way through. There were also several characters that were introduced and developed and then we never heard from them again. I missed some of them and wondered what happened to them. But overall, Spooner is a fun and easy listen. The narrator did a very good job.
My review title alludes to a reference in this novel to men having sex with chickens.
That's where I stopped the book. Readers shouldn't be forced to wonder whether such an act is possible, let alone whether it's happened outside the author's imagination.
The chicken sex reference is one of many passage in the book that made no sense to me. Not that I wouldn't behave that way - I can't imagine anyone behaving certain ways, making certain choices, that characters in this book do. I've read wild stuff from authors as different as Homer and Orson Scott Card and can't recall having been simply stumped before.
Life's too short to spend with inexplicable characters.
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