What the Family Needed
Shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year, the ALS Gold Medal, and longlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award.
"Okay, tell me which do you want: to be able to fly or to be invisible?"
What if every now and then, the people in your family woke up with a special power?
Over the span of 30 years we are invited into the secrets of one very unique family, from a mystified teenager to an over-tired night nurse to a conflicted exile.
The surprising strengths they each find show them how to change their lives - and what the family needs in order to survive.
"A wonderful novel: imaginative, intelligent, empathetic... Like a cross between The Corrections and The Slap." - Sydney Morning Herald
"To tell you the narrative concerns a family whose members have superpowers is only to graze the surface of a moving and beautifully realised meditation on what it is to be an ordinary human being." - The Australian
"Grade: A... At once magical and very normal, a wishful fantasy about the strength it can take to love one's family members well." - Entertainment Weekly
Amsterdam's second novel (after Things We Didn't Know) tackles the family-in-crisis trope: divorce, financial struggles, a child adrift, and the loss of a spouse. Except each member of this family has a superpower. The book is written in vignettes that span 30 years and never land on the same person twice, and one of the delights is piecing together the truth about each character as his or her inner world and the family's perception intersect. Some of the characters' superpowers underscore the book's conventionality an insecure 15-year-old girl wills herself invisible while others feel somewhat arbitrary. Why exactly does Natalie have the power to swim fantastically? (The answer provided is flimsy at best.) Yet there are moments when the writing's simplicity becomes its own kind of superpower. In a section on grief, Peter loses his wife of 41 years (Natalie, the swimmer) and discovers he can make his desires real: funeral well-wishers appear and then vanish; Natalie's pumpkin mash steams on a plate and only after eating does Peter decide the flavor is too much to bear. It's a fresh take on grief, and when Peter realizes his loss, and that two lives lived in tandem are just that, the book soars. A late revelation, however, threatens to reduce each vignette, and the novel, into a stylistic exercise.