by Pete Dexter

Paperback, 2010

Call number




Grand Central Publishing (2010), Edition: Reprint, 496 pages


Losing his father shortly after birth, Warren Spooner endures a troubled childhood and even more troubled young adulthood that is marked by his dishonorably discharged stepfather, whose inexhaustible patience is tested by the difficult Warren. By the National Book Award-winning author of Paris Trout.

Media reviews

“Spooner” isn’t a perfect novel. In addition to a certain shaggy-dog quality, for which, frankly, I’m a sucker, the novel meanders its way to Whidbey Island off Seattle and some ugly events involving a homosexual couple that I really hope weren’t drawn from life. And several major
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characters get rather short shrift. For example, I felt the long-suffering second Mrs. Spooner deserved both a first name and a more fleshed-out characterization than just repeated descriptions of her “elegant” posterior. But if “Spooner” isn’t perfect, it’s something almost as rare: It’s alive.
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4 more
Spooner is a magnificently written book. Dexter’s fine eye for tiny details and the ways feelings can accumulate into a larger ball of depression or joy is ever-present; even his weaker episodes at least evoke laughs.
So, this book is different! Not exactly what Pete Dexter usually writes, but madly interesting in what it sets out to do. I freely admit to a bias: As far as I'm concerned, Dexter can do no wrong.
With the arrival of Spooner, we get nothing less than a terrific comic novel, half shaggy-dog story and half fictional autobiography, wholly drunk on the wildness of the world, the wincing in pain quickly dissolving into a laugh full of heartbreak.
“Spooner” is a family epic that digs out the emotions packed in memory’s earliest bonds — guilt, resentment, loyalty and love.

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
Warren Spooner was born in an unconventional and disturbing manner and the rest of his life followed a similar path. This sweeping novel follows “Spooner” through his creepy childhood in a small town in Georgia, the kid had some odd fetishes, to his surprising success as a high school pitching
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phenom, to later adulthood as a writer and family man. It’s interesting that this is purported to be semi-autobiographical, but Dexter paints the protagonist as a slightly doltish outcast, dim and eccentric, who seems to bond better with dogs than people. The author easily makes up for this by creating some other indelible characters, especially Calmer, Spooner’s step-father. An ex-Naval Officer, who becomes a school teacher and then a wonderful father to Spooner and his other siblings. He is warm, hard-working and intelligent. I loved this character and his name is pitch-perfect! Dexter reminds me of a southern John Irving: very funny, darkly twisted and quite unforgettable. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member wade_coleman
Dexter is a great writer, and Paris Trout and The Paperboy are both books I enjoyed. I read a glowing review of Spooner in the NYT, so I expected it to be good too. Unfortunately, it was pretty bad. The novel is a thinly-veiled memoir that follows Dexter's own life. The...re were a few laughs in
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there, but the characters never get any real development. The book is way too long and poorly structured. I'd recommend just skipping Spooner and reading Dexter's bio on Wikipedia. It's shorter and had better editors.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
This novel takes me back to the glory days of newspapers in the Philadelphia of my youth. The morning Inquirer and The Evening Bulletin, which my father brought with him every night as he came off the 5th street trolley from downtown, were sandwiched around the afternoon Daily News for the blue
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collar/sports-minded crowd. Pete Dexter wrote a column for this paper before leaving journalism to write fiction. This is his seventh novel along with a book of his newspaper columns.

Although originally from Michigan, Dexter has the voice of a Philadelphian when telling stories set in The City of Brotherly Love -- which is mostly true, except for when the Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, and Phillies host out-of-town teams. I remember one incident when sports fans booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs during the final Eagle’s game of the 1968 season. Dexter’s characters have that quirky, interesting, volatile, and highly recognizable aura of Philadelphia about them.

The story kept me turning pages. As in all his works, Dexter sprinkles funny situations and comic utterances by his characters throughout. His sometimes dark humor -- especially Chapter 85 -- kept me in stitches. The novel also has its poignant moments.

Dexter tells the story of Spooner, a misfit child whose father dies when he is quite young. Spooner’s mother remarries, and the novel largely revolves around the relationship between Spooner and his step-dad.

Near the end, Dexter writes,

“Spooner, a man by now of some reputation for going his own way, who had over the years taken pretty dramatic steps to be seen that way, 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.” (442)

Dexter always takes me on a tour of familiar places in Philly -- Center City, the museums, even Dirty Frank’s a legendary bar near the Inquirer/Daily News building that was a favorite hangout of reporters. The book sounds like a cynical, observant reporter on the trail of an interesting story. Although he denied being autobiographical in an interview when the book came out a few of months ago, numerous incidents in Spooner’s life match Dexter’s biography -- even down to the title of one of Spooner’s novels, Deadwood, which you might know from the HBO series of a couple of years ago. Now that I think about it, his Deadwood might have been populated by a large number of Eagle and Flyer’s fans!

If you have never read Dexter, start with his National Book Award winner, Paris Trout. If you love newspapers and reporting as I do, you will want to read all of his works. Five Stars

--Jim, 5/3/10
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LibraryThing member Griff
Spooner. One of those characters that constantly has you shaking your head and wondering, "Why?" At the same time, a character worth caring about - one worth the reader's time in getting to know. Spooner is just one of many eccentric characters that populate his world. No matter how outrageous the
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situation or the people, it all rings true. Life is like that sometimes, isn't it? Central to it all is Spooner's relationship with his stepfather Calmer. Despite the chaos of it all, Calmer displays the patience of Job. In the end there is an unspoken understanding, a quiet love that wins the day. The book itself possesses a mix of humor and pathos that keeps it all in perspective. This was one of the best books I read in 2009. Excellent, energetic, and engaging writing by Dexter makes this a winner.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
I had read Paris Trout and liked it very much. Hadn't thought about Pete Dexter for a while , but when the reviews came out I thought I would give it a try. Glad I did. I have trouble with some of the negative reviews(although there are very few). It is as if these readers missed the point. It does
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not matter if it is somewhat autobiographical. What matters is that it is a great story with interesting characters. I love the way Dexter gets into the minds of his characters. Calmer's thought process towards the end gave a chilling insight into dementia. It definitely reminded me of John Irving with the sudden introduction of major ups and downs. I am glad to see that other readers felt the same way. I am definitely going to try and read some of Dexter's other novels and look forward his future work.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
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
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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
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LibraryThing member earthwind
You Can Not Just Read This Book
Intensely personal feelings expressed by Dexter allow one not only to have a great reading experience but to treasure the after-thoughts of this semi fictitious story. The life of a man struggling from childhood surrounded by family of brilliant minds and ill mother.
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One more thing. It is a hilarious look at life woes.
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LibraryThing member ccayne
I wanted to like this more than I did. I'm a fan of Pete Dexter but this needed some editing. I was a fantastical, lengthy yarn of some improbable and unusual journeys. I was fascinated by Spooner's marriage and his ups and downs. Both men, Spooner and Calmer, were men you would be hard-pressed to
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find in this world and they both seemed to come at it be accident.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Spooner never seemed to fit easily into the world. He was the product of a difficult labour. The only one of four siblings not highly intelligent. I think of him as a slighly rounded peg almost, but not quite, fitting into the square world.

Spooner's widowed mother (Lily) marries Calmer Ottossen
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when Spooner is four years old, and this book is primarily the story of the relationship between Calmer and Spooner. There is a deep bond between them, even though they always remain "just out of reach" of really understanding each other. It is a story about bonds of family and love.

Pete Dexter writes with a dark sense of humour which keeps his characters believable even when they find themselves in somewhat unlikely circumstances. He tells a good story.
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LibraryThing member lucienspringer
Holy cow, this is good. A boy grows into manhood with the help of his stepdad, starting out in the South and winding up on Whidbey Island, Washington; it's largely about how men think and feel, and about how they do or don't express themselves, in a dark, funny, I-can't-believe-he-said-that kind of
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way. Honestly, the story is sometimes as stitched-together and staggering as Frankenstein's monster, but like him it's also immensely strong and impossible to keep your eyes off of.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
I liked it for a while, but eventually I just got tired of it.
LibraryThing member Snukes
The writing was very interesting, the characters fascinatingly drawn, but I finished the book feeling a little too much like I'd just witnessed a real life. I prefer my fiction to be much less realistic and more warm-fuzzy. And I just don't understand what happened to Calmer in the end. Where did
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that bullet come from?

Recommended by: Nyla G, Bonnie K.
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LibraryThing member nikon
I just like the way this guy writes - it's never all La-De-Da big, bright and colourful nor is it a big build up with a super hero at its core no, it's more like h'e taking you up a long straight steep hill where every-so-often something stops you and makes you pause in sheer wonderment but you
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know you cant stop and ask who what why or when you've got to go on & keep right on keeping on right to the very end. Spooner is a twit, a nit-wit, an odd ball and a good guy all rolled into one and Calmer the other main lead in this story well...he's just how you'd have liked your Dad to be. I liked it all and felt a little sad when and how it ended but that too was just perfect - It's a different read but a good read
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LibraryThing member debs913
Fascinating story of Spooner, his somewhat jinxed life and difficult relationships. Funny, sad, sometimes makes you want to grab him by the shoulders and shake him and yell "What were you THINKING!" Good read.
LibraryThing member kerns222
What a mess. At times a fun mess, but Dexter is not as clever as he thinks. When he exagerates he does not go far enough to be funny, yet he goes too far for you to care about what happens. And the plot--what plot? The novel rambles and staggers and falls on its face--but there are moments.
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
So I am officially abandoning this book. The second chapter is too cutesy by half and I can't deal with a character named Rudolph Toebox. I might pick it up again someday, but for now I am moving on to something sophisticated and high-art (I'm thinking Sookie Stackhouse).


Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2011)
Washington State Book Award (Finalist — 2010)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2010)




0446540730 / 9780446540735
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