Steven Amsterdam: What the Family Needed

Super feats of empathy

Nic Low


What the Family Needed
Steven Amsterdam
Sleepers Publishing, $24.95 pb, 284 pp, 9781742702117


Here is a cliché to start your day: superhuman feats of strength. You find them in disaster stories and war epics, where desperate, adrenalised men push beyond the limits of human ability. Rescuers lift impossibly heavy rubble off earthquake victims; soldiers carry wounded comrades miles to safety. Such feats crop up in more imaginative forms in comic books, where the need to fight crime or save the world spawns the ability to fly or dodge bullets. In Steven Amsterdam’s ingenious What the Family Needed, the idea of exceptional abilities for exceptional times is applied to the family. Amsterdam seems to have posed the question: ‘what super powers would a family develop to cope with the emotional crises of everyday life?’ The answer is best summed up as superhuman feats of empathy.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in November 2011 no. 336
Nicolas Low

Nicolas Low

Nicolas Low is a New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based writer and artist. His fiction, essays, and art criticism have appeared in publications, including The Big Issue, Griffith Review, The Lifted Brow, Art Monthly, and Dumbo Feather. He makes installation art for festivals around Australia, and runs Asialink’s international writing program.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.