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WHAT THE FAMILY NEEDED by Steven Amsterdam


by Steven Amsterdam

Pub Date: March 21st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59448-639-5
Publisher: Riverhead

What this fictional family needs, according to Amsterdam, are surreal and fantastic interventions that give each member the strength to go on.

Although the story spans 30 years, the weirdness starts when 15-year-old Giordana escapes with her mother, Ruth, and brother, Ben, to her aunt and uncle’s house to elude her father’s abuse. Aunt Natalie and Uncle Peter have a house of their own with their children, Giordana’s cousins Alek and Sasha. Alek, whose age is inferable by his Superman underpants, is thrilled to see his cousins and impulsively asks Giordana whether she’d rather fly or be invisible. Somewhat bewildered, she chooses the latter, in part to placate the insistent Alek, but she is even more astonished to discover that she actually does develop the ability to disappear. This allows her to eavesdrop on conversations about her father’s mistreatment of her mother, conversations Ruth doesn’t particularly want to share with her daughter. The chapters focus on a different character in the family and on an astonishing capacity each develops. Alek starts to become recalcitrant in school, and Natalie takes refuge in swimming, but she begins to have times that compete with college swimmers half her age. In her capacity as a nurse, Ruth begins to hear the thoughts of her patients. After Natalie dies of an aneurysm, Peter discovers some astonishing abilities to bend reality to his will. The novel ends with the adult Alek, who’s always been the estranged one in the family, claiming that “Anything can happen, anywhere”—and the events of the novel have proved his observation true.

While Amsterdam is not exactly working in the style of magical realism, he develops his own kind of reality that has more than a tinge of fantasy.