Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

Synopsis: Isabel Spellman is now owner of her family's private investigation firm, which her parents intended for her...someday...and not in a hostile takeover. This means war and the Spellmans do that in their own special way.

Is this "The End"?

I am confused.

If you've read any of the Spellman books, that last sentence will be very familiar. I feel very one with Isabel right now. When I heard the next Spellman book was called The Last Word, I had a sense of foreboding. Was it going to be the last word about the Spellmans forever? After reading blurbs and Lutz's website, I felt better. It is only the "latest" installment. But then I actually read the book and it sounds like it is The End. Clearly, I was psychic and should have had faith in the cosmos. I can appreciate going out while you're still at the top of your game, but I'm going to miss the crazy folks of this series.

It's been about a year since I read the last Spellman novel, Trail of the Spellmans, which I remember bittersweetly, in part. I am a closet romantic and I despised the sudden biological clock bomb that went off. It was totally not in keeping with the characters/situation and I felt blindsided by what was clearly a plot cop-out. Some of that (bad!) karma seems to have lingered a bit and there is a certain departure in tone from the previous flippant, devil-may-care attitude that has come to define the Spellman dynamic. The writing is still brisk and sarcastic as ever, but there is a thread that feels...weighty. Sad. Resigned. Grown-up? I wanted to give Izzy a hug! I'm so fond of Lutz/Izzy for showing a genuine evolution towards real maturity in these seemingly good-time books. Izzy has come a long way and yet she has remained true to her spirit and for that alone, I think Lutz deserves many a drink on us readers.

Then again, maybe it's this development of maturity that changed Izzy from this insanely entertaining figure to a solid member of society that has ultimately killed the Spellman series? When Izzy isn't reckless and self-destructive, there is a distinct lack of energy, not to mention acts of vandalism and sibling revenge. Oh, man, I so did not mean this review to be a downer! Let me move on to something less existential.

The Last Word is a pleasure to read, as is any Spellman story ever. Lutz is true to form and Document #6 is a solid member of the series. I happily buzzed right through it in two (work) days during my long ass commute. The swingy style is easy breezy and spare. I think this works towards highlighting the author's best feature, her characters. I love that we got some new-ish people in this book, like Edward, Evelyn, Damien and Sydney. Edward reminded me of one of my favorites, Morty. He's the Scarecrow to my Dorothy. For all the praise of Lutz's comic voice and distinctive writing style, I think her best work lies in these characters. She makes them memorable without resorting to incongruous exposition and backstory. Lutz, through Izzy's observations, has an uncanny eye for capturing a person, wholly original and interesting, in just a few scenes or lines. They move the plot along and are good fodder for Izzy's anti-social antics. I deeply appreciate the lack of extraneous characters. That leaves lots of time for the best of the bunch: the Spellmans, who all pitch in and keep things lively, even Grammy Ruth-Emily Spellman-Post. I'm pretty sure I'd never want to live with any of them, but dang if I don't want to be adopted!

There is a closer-than-usual continuity from the last book and the smaller gap in time threw me off. I should have picked up Trail of the Spellmans to refresh my memory as it took me a little bit to get back into Izzy's head (since she narrates) and on with the show. This newly-responsible-small-business-owner Izzy is also a bit of a change from the fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants girl who could disappear for days at a time without an issue. Still, there is plenty of funny and quirky going on in between dealing with cases, family mysteries, and emotional drama. Strangely enough, the people we're used to seeing involved in all three of these aspects are noticeably AWOL. Rae is remarkably subdued for most of the book and was almost boring. Maybe that's what happens after you have a record, a car, an apartment, and a boyfriend? (And speaking of, why is there so little of the delightful Fred Finkel??) I wish there was more Rae and less Henry. The former fails to exasperate me enough and the latter starts to for the first time. It is like he and Izzy reversed roles or something. Totally weird and ultimately dissatisfying, although the ending rang true, thanks to Rae.

Now that I start thinking of what was not in the book, I'm starting to feel less sanguine about The Last Word. Where are Izzy's lists where she explains the unexplainable, or just stuff other people don't really think about? Where are all the (classic) TV references? I enjoy those even if I didn't always get them. There are regular footnotes and Morgan Freeman references, which are comfortingly familiar, but now I feel sure that something was a bit off during this writing - things got serious - for a Spellman anyway. It mirrors what happens to Izzy too. She tries her best to be together, mostly sober, and not scary to little children (excluding "Not Izzy" Sydney), but the more she tries to do right, the more her family and friends seem to resist her. They have been wanting her to grow up for years, so she finally does and then they bail? I don't know, I guess I can't be happy that the characters have developed in a natural way but be unhappy that this growth has led to quieter and more serious lives. Dammit, this is fiction! I want improbable happy endings, familial blackmail, and immature charm to ride off into the sunset! The realist in me knows that Lutz did right by her series, but like I said, I am a closet romantic too.

So what I want to say is that The Last Word is good fun and the Spellmans are still endearing as ever. The main characters have shown incremental change over this series and things nicely culminate here in terms of the family, their business, and their emotional lives. I loved it despite my selfish tendency to want the Spellmans to stay the same and continue to let me be a part of their family through their books. If this is indeed good-bye, I don't want to say it. So I won't.

Rating: 5

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