What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam

Everyone has thought about the power they would choose if they could have a superpower right?
Faced with the choice of flying or invisibility what would you choose?

In Steven Amsterdam’s second book “What the Family Needed” we’re invited into the lives of a family who are given exactly what they need – or at least what they think they need. One by one each of the characters tells their story and we discover the single wish that each has had granted.

It’s a good book, and cleverly written. Each character is given one chapter in which they are the focus, and when the narrative is passed to the next family member, time passes too. In this way, we are given an intimate look into a very select group of characters but over a significant timespan – which is one of the many points that makes this novel unique.

In regards to the superpowers, it’s hard to give anything away without telling too much – I don’t want to discuss the powers people get, why or how. Anyone who has watched a comic book movie will know that getting a superpower is never all it’s cracked up to be, and this book is no exception. Superpowers do not magically transform these mundane characters into extraordinary people, instead they deepen cracks and uncertainties that already existed within the family dynamic. But it is the mundane that makes this book incredible, not the extraordinary. The isolation of the characters, reflected in the solitary chapters illustrates perfectly the isolation that people undoubtedly feel (even if they’re surrounded by family) at some point in their lives. Each family member is so preoccupied with their flaws and their fears that they feel unable to share the most extraordinary things. It is the ideal illustration of the things that we choose to share, and the things we keep secret just to make our relationships worse.

There are superpowers in this book, but ultimately it is a book about family. There isn’t one moment where you think “hang on a minute, superpowers aren’t real” because Steven Amsterdam has so naturally woven them into the narrative that it would seem much stranger if they weren’t there. It’s the kind of book that you could imagine being called a ‘modern family fable’ for its wonderful insights into the family dynamic and individual obsessions. Most importantly, it’s an excellent read – one that will easily see you through the day and well into the night.

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