Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Family That Spies Together

The Spellman Files
by Lisa Lutz
Published by Simon and Schuster
4 Out of 5 Stars

I'm one of those people who will forgive anything of a movie or a novel as long as I enjoy the characters. If I like the characters, if I find them amusing or admirable or realistic, I'll gladly read hundreds of pages in which nothing really happens just for the pleasure of their company. This is one of those novels and, as such, while I enjoyed the hell out of it, I probably won't actively recommend it because I don't want anyone wondering, "I don't get it. What did she think was so special in this thing? Nothing really happens. Sweet bibliophilia, she book raped me!" And then there are the awkward months of refusing to make eye contact with me in the hallways, the whispering behind my back ("She's the one who book raped Edna"), and the nervous tics that will inevitably manifest themselves when I'm spotted with a book in my hand and approaching someone. And so I will not insist that anyone read this novel, although I think a person might enjoy it if he willingly chooses to read it of his own free will with no pressure from me whatsoever. 

The Spellman Files is about an eccentric family of private investigators, although it is narrated through the viewpoint of 28 year old Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, the middle child of the family. When Izzy was younger, she knew there was no way that she could live up to her impossibly perfect older brother so she instead dedicated her life to rebellion and anarchy. Izzy was a success in making her parents' lives a living hell--always in trouble with alcohol, drugs, vandalism--however, she cleans up her act (to a point) when her sister Rae is born and emulates everything Izzy does. Fortunately, the directionless Izzy's past makes her a perfect employee in the family's private investigation business. She has no scruples about following the law or the rules, has only a loose interpretation of morality, and actually enjoys detective work. While Izzy has matured, she hasn't lost her razor sharp tongue or the quirks that make her an enjoyable character. 

The novel's plot seems secondary to the character development and, while this would drive a lot of readers insane, I didn't mind it. In the beginning you learn that Rae has disappeared and the police believe Izzy is somehow connected. Through interviews and case reports, Izzy goes back and constructs the family dynamic that exists among the Spellmans. After working for so long in the PI business, they are all paranoid and hyper-sensitive to plots, treachery, and falsehoods, which lead to intrafamily battle royales over real and presumed betrayals. This is a family that loves each other, but they have strange ways of showing that love (it's nothing in the Spellman family for a relative to bug your room, put a wire tap on your phone, run a background check on your current boyfriend, pick the lock to your apartment, put you under surveillance, etc.) The methods used by the Spellman parents to make sure their children are on the straight and narrow often lead to hilarious results and the banter between the Spellman children seems authentic and real. There's no real suspense here and what little there is can be easily pieced together, but that's not the real point of the novel anyway--this is a quick, light read about the bonds that hold even the most unconventional of families together. 

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