That’s the idea behind the new novel What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam. The family in the title are a muddled bunch. Natalie and Ruth are sisters. Ruth has just left her husband and brought her two teenagers, Giordana and Ben, to live with Natalie’s family. Ruth’s family is always in flux and troubled. Natalie’s is stable and calm… except for young Alek who’s a little eccentric.
This book is really an interesting mashup. It has a traditional family drama on the one hand, watching these sisters, parents, cousins, etc. over the course of decades as their relationships change and fall apart and get repaired.
It’s also a book of connected short stories. Each chapter follows one family member. It starts with teenage Giordana whose life is upended by her parents’ separation and who is struggling to get a handle on her place in the family and in the world. The novel moves forward decades in time as you go from one character to another. Each one comes at a time of crisis. Loss. Grief. Dating. Love. Parenthood. It’s all there.
And then to top it off there’s a twist of magical realism. In the midst of the nitty gritty of real life, there’s a sudden gift. A sudden power. You find that you’re suddenly invisible. Or you can fly. Or you have super strength. And somehow that one thing is exactly what you needed to help you work through your problems.
It’s a great novel to just surrender to. Don’t ask questions. Don’t wonder where these powers come from. Don’t wonder what just happened in the 10 years between two chapters. Just let yourself go. Just take the ride.
Amsterdam’s characters are fantastic and that’s why the book works.
My only quibble is that I found the last chapter took away some of the magic I’d felt earlier on, but I still had such a nice experience spending time with this book that I can definitely recommend it. I also love the author’s website where you can choose a super power. Way cool.
Thanks to Riverhead Books for providing me with an e-galley of this book.