Pete Dexter
(Grand Central)
Warner Whitlowe Spooner is what we used to call (formally) accident-prone, or, (more informally), a royal pain in the ass. Dropping things, bumbling around, sometime stealing. He is also a "special needs" child. He has this need to piss in other people's shoes. Not his own.

He sneaks in people's houses when all is quiet and lets fly. In one case, after he has --- as Chaucer would say --- "bepissed himself," he puts the newly anointed boots in the owner's refrigerator.

They refer to this unknown monster as "The Fiend" there in Millidgeville, Georgia. No one knows who is doing the dastardly deed except Calmer, his step-father ... and he never lets on.

Lily, Spooner's mother, is asthmatic, permits no loud noises, no fires, no dogs or cats, no excitement ... and certainly no wet shoe stories. Husband Calmer takes care of her and the children until she up and dies of an asthma attack after meeting a wheezing, sneezing dog.

Pete Dexter is that kind of a writer: an asthmatic woman dies from exposure to a dog that has asthma, watched over by a calm man named Calmer, with son Spooner who is a thoroughgoing pisser. Dexter is also a hell of a lot of fun. He spins a story that moves right along. He has a good time with it (and us) ... is a phrase-master.

Dr. Woods, the family physician, had never seen "a more difficult labor" than Lily had with W. W. Spooner. "He mentioned this to Lily every time she brought in the boy for repairs, and it never failed to cheer her up to hear him say it."

    The little Spooner girl was an angel and the boy, well, he'd been there himself but it was still hard to believe they come out the same rabbit hole.

Young Warner isn't a complete dolt. In one of the funniest passages in Spooner, we find him pitching for the high-school baseball team. When he pitched, the ball "began to rise and dive and jag sideways, as if one side were heavier than the other, and Calmer sat in the stands --- a physicist, a mathematician, a pilot, a man who knew and understood the principles of flight --- trying to conceive what spin would account for the sudden movement of the ball as it reached the plate."

Young Spooner is so hot that scouts come down from Chicago to look him over. One of them tells Calmer

    It's something like a knuckler, but it don't look like a knuckler coming to the plate onaccount of the ball gets to you so fast.

It's the "poop" he concludes: "That poop at the end of them pitches."

    It was a satisfying word, poop, and he said it and waited, and in the quiet that followed, his thoughts went to a caving expedition a long time ago in the Black Hills, of that certain, dark stillness and sensing the presence of other living things.

§     §     §

It's Calmer's and Spooner's book, and I guess you could call it a coming-of-age novel for the two of them. We follow Spooner --- fumbling, a bit of a loser (his arm disintegrates just as he gets signed to the Red Sox) --- here and there around America; finally Calmer and Spooner end up together on Whidbey Island in Washington. Certainly there is no more loving picture of a good man's mind disintegrating with age. Calmer's dementia is one with purpose, and by the end of Spooner we cheer him on for what he does, so fatally, to a neighborhood bully.

Dexter is daffier than Tom Robbins, and twice as much fun. This on Spooner's gay neighbors there on Whidbey: "The fact of the matter, as Spooner had already gleaned from the Sunday Styles section in the New York Times, was that same-tool love wasn't very much different or more preposterous than love by the prong-and-socket style nature designed,"

    and after the boys next door finished with the part of it that was different --- and Spooner counted on the Times to leave this last bit of uncharted territory uncharted --- the grandson and the bodybuilder most likely cuddled and promised each other never to fight again, just like any other couple making up."

--- Lolita Lark
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