The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hi-Larious. Truly. I am a sucker for a book that can have me snorting in the lawn chair, drawing the attention of confused passers-by. Make me cry with laughter and you’ve really got me. The Spellman files had me.
I’m a slow reader. It is what it is. There is just not enough time in the day for me to get anywhere, so I am forever spinning my wheels within 5 or 6 books, sometimes more, sometimes less. Fortunately for me, I started The Spellman Files right before we headed to the cabin for the weekend, and I took nothing with me but recreational reading.
I had Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time in the backpack, Michael Perry being a staple of my reading repertoire, but I couldn’t get around to finishing those last few chapters. I had Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods in there too, but even though I had just started it, and was still coming off the Anansi Boys high (don’t even talk to me about reading books out of order… it makes them more interesting), it wasn’t even tempting.
When I picked The Spellman Files up from the library last week, it was a stab in the dark. The off-the-wall cover caught my eye. It reminded me somehow of Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. Fat Albert and Picture Pages to be specific. No idea why, as it bears no resemblance that I can lay a finger on, but it took me back. One of the reviews on the back calls it Harriet the Spy for grown-ups. Another (author of The Devil Wears Prada) claims that the only only problem with the book was that she hadn’t written it herself. Potential.
I picked it up, planning to add it to my stacks of books that would adorn every available space in my living room until they had to go back to the library unread. Sometimes those piles just get out of hand.
Then I cracked it, and then I never put it down. The perfect book for a weekend around the campfire and nothing else calling my name.
I followed Isabel Spellman through her over-the-top life as a private investigator, living and working in a family of private investigators, investigating, primarily, one another. By the end, I felt as though my own family was not at all as screwed up as I once thought. Her people brought new meaning to idiosyncratic. Her story brought humor to a new level. Her very existence brought hope to fiction.
Lisa Lutz has won my heart. Not only has she managed to write an adult novel with youth and zeal, she also managed to avoid the gratuitous nastiness that could easy have been present. To be sure, every adult and controversial topic is covered (sex: yep; drugs: lots; alcohol: mm-hmm; pornography and prostitution: all over the place; gambling, debauchery, suicide, grafitti, truancy, dysfunctional families, car chases, sex-changes, runaways… check, check, and check) and covered well, but not once did she indulge the detail-demon. Ms. Lutz forwarded her story without once insisting on making me skim through unnecessary sharing of irrelevant intimate details. Refreshing, to say the least.
Nor (and this is huge) were any of the negative traits in our hero (or any other characters) toted as positive. This goes a long way with me. Show me the ugly, sure, but please don’t pretend it’s not ugly; don’t try to convince me it is beautiful. I’ve little patience for propaganda designed to swing the collective moral compass to suit the times.
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I am thrilled to report that I finished the book and immediately proclaimed that my 16yo, were she interested in anything her mother would read, was free to dive in. With a heavy dose of discernment, of course, given aforementioned controversial topics, but read it she could. I was not at all concerned that she would have her innocence ripped away by the pages of a book, spend the next ten years trying to erase the images conjured within, or otherwise be scarred for life. While chock full of dubious affairs, The Spellman Files still came through shining in my book.
I should enter a disclaimer that just because I would let my kid read this book, does not mean that you should, without further investigation, let your kid read this book. Innocence will be lost. Your child will have knowledge of drug paraphernalia and human depravity that may be better off unknown. They will learn many methods of evading and invading, that may also be lessons best unlearned. They may make a study of the snarkiness and irreverence that the Spellman family employs as their modus operandi, possibly altering your happy home forever. But they will certainly have a good laugh.
As for the responsible adult types… The Spellman Files is waiting for whenever you decide you need a good laugh and a clean break from reality.
I actually think being a slow reader can be a really good thing – makes you take more of it in, gives you time to process it all!
I agree. Frustrating at times, as you watch your speedreading friends power through seven books a week while in the midst of a full buffet of all life can deal out, as you are still staring at the same wishing pile that has been there for a month, but it does have its advantages! Think of all we’re taking in!
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