Like The Other Typist, What The Family Needed was a long strange trip, until the ending pushed the entire project into focus. Unlike The Other Typist, What The Family Needed included fantastical elements that made it very hard to classify, but my job will be to try.
Perhaps it’s like if the movie Unbreakable was a book about trouble in the family. Umm, should I say spoiler alert for those unfamiliar with the twist in Unbreakable? Maybe it’s like Watchmen, dissecting and playing around with the superhero genre. Perhaps the author himself, Steven Amsterdam, provides the best description for his book, which is reflected in the title.
Essentially, it’s like a collection of short vignettes, bestowing each member of a family in an unknown time, in an unknown city, (present-ish, though the story spans several years), each being granted a superpower used to heal a rift, and all revolving around family outsider Alek. Like Jennifer Close’s The Smart One, I was most closely attached to one character, that being Giordana, who receives her power in the first, and probably most captivating installment.
Some of the subsequent adventures were less mesmerizing, and right up until the last one, which I knew would be about the mysterious Alek, I could not see how they fit together into a unified whole. True to form, this book was powerful, but I would have liked to have seen the power distilled to one source, such as in Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude. Perhaps that’s What the Family Needed needed to make the superheroic seem just a little less twee. This book still contained some powerful material, and used it for good.