Bear with me here as I use a long, silly story to start this post. I adored Freaks and Geeks as a teen, and one of my very favorite moments is in the last episode when the Deadheads notice Lindsay is carrying a copy of American Beauty around school. They’re super pumped for her to listen to it, and one of them says to her, “I wish I’d never heard it before, just so I could hear it again for the first time.” That line has lived in my head for the past 17 years (ahem. Yes I DID watch F&G when it originally aired, thankyouverymuch) and become the basis for how I judge books, music, movies, and TV. The Westing Game is one of those books that I most wish I could go back and read for the first time.
If you’ve read this book, you know why I love it, and if you’ve never read it, do yourself the favor. It’s the story of 16 people, summoned to the reading of the will of a wealthy eccentric, Sam Westing. The will turns out to be a game–whichever heir solves the mystery of Sam Westing’s murder will inherit his large estate. That’s the whole setup, but there’s so much more. . . the 16 heirs are each fantastic characters in their own right, and I wish I had time to talk about each one. The nominal main character is Turtle Wexler. Turtle’s 13 years old, obsessed with playing the stock market, and inordinately proud of her long, dark braid–touching it will get you a swift kick to the shins. Although the book moves back and forth between almost every heir’s point of view at different times, Turtle is the one we spend the most time with and the audience stand-in. One thing I love about this book, though, is the way we see conversations from the view of both participants. Most of the heirs don’t know each other well, and there are constant misunderstandings that just go unaddressed. The heirs think that one of their number is a murderer, and so each benign comment becomes laden with sinister overtones.
Besides being an engrossing murder mystery and a puzzle, this book is funny and just a delight to read. Here’s the last line of Sam Westing’s obituary: “The executor of the Westing estate said the deceased requested that, in place of flowers, donations be sent to the Blind Bowlers of America.” Hee! Man, I love this book. It’s a gem. I wish I could go back and read it again for the first time. . .