When scrolling through my GoodReads account it becomes pretty evident that I’m not a person who tends to gravitate towards stories of average people. Novels about real relationships, real struggles, and accurate reflections of the world we live in generally don’t interest me, at least when told as novels. No, for whatever reason I’m far more interested in a heightened, stranger view of the world. Even if that strange view ends up getting to the same universal truth that a more traditional and mundane novel would, I almost always prefer for things to get odd. But, like I said, that doesn’t mean that these odd stories can’t hit upon some very universal and important themes. In fact, a stranger and more bizarre premise can often, in my opinion, get deeper to the heart of the matter than a more traditional story ever could. Plus, I spend my whole life in the real world, so why not seek out entertainment and stories that display a different worldview than my own? To that end, when I was sifting through various lists of “Best Novels of 2017,” I came across a book that almost immediately piqued my interest. I mean, how could a novel about a family of psychics who may or may not be con-artists not get me interested? I’m not made of stone, people.
Spoonbenders is the story of a family, told throughout several decades. They were briefly known as the Amazing Telemachus Family, a remarkable family of psychics. There’s Teddy and Maureen, and their children Irene, Frankie, and Buddy. Teddy has no gifts, and is just a skilled conman/magician/card shark. Maureen though is the world’s most powerful psychic, able to pull of legitimately amazing feats of extra sensory perception. Irene is a human lie-detector, Frankie has minor telekinesis, and Buddy can predict the future. But, their lives don’t turn out quite the way they were intending. Maureen ended up working for the government during the Cold War, but died tragically young, leaving Teddy to raise the kids on his own. Irene had a son she named Matty, and after her career implodes she and her son have to move back in with Teddy. Frankie is constantly unfulfilled and always in search of a get-rich-quick scheme, putting himself in deep to a Chicago gangster called Nick Pusateri. And Buddy has become completely unhinged from reality, turning into a veritable Billy Pilgrim, unable to keep himself in the present. None of their lives are really going that well, but that doesn’t mean that things couldn’t get worse.
Because it turns out that the Telemachus family have become inextricably linked to that of the Pusateri’s. Buddy has been convinced that there’s an upcoming even that could potentially destroy both families, and starts prodding his family along the path to success. Irene gets involved in a torrid love-affair from an online romance, Frankie begins planning a heist to pay off the loan from the Pusateri’s, and Teddy begins a flirtatious relationship with Nick’s estranged daughter-in-law. And, while all of this is going on, Matty finds that he too has inherited a psychic power, finding that he has the ability to astral project himself. Unfortunately, that realization draws the attention of the government, who have been watching the Telemachus family in the hopes that they while produce another psychic spy in the vein of Maureen. These elaborate webs begin drawing tighter and tighter, with no one other than Buddy really understanding how things are going to pan out, potentially bringing the family out of their rut, or possibly to their ultimate destruction.
This novel is an absolute delight. I’d never read a story written by Daryl Gregory, but he could weave a hell of a yarn. This novel is absolutely brimming with colorful characters, giving us a family of fully realized human beings, all grappling with some very real issues, in addition to dealing with their psychic powers and the place that that puts them in the world. While it could be frustrating to see this family make stupid decisions, which are abundant in this novel, but that’s only because the reader is so quickly drawn into their family. Family do stupid things, and it’s easy to find them frustrating, and this novel pretty accurately portrayed that. This is a family who have remarkable gifts, and who have squandered them. They thought that they were destined for a more important type of life, and they ended up being just like everyone else. Leading lives of struggle and want. They all think that they should have better lives, that things should have been easier, but they were screwed over. And yet, by the end, they realize that none of that’s important. They have each other, and despite things not being the idealized world that they wanted, they’re happy. They’re a supportive and loving family, and that’s something even rarer than psychic powers.
Spoonbenders was written by Daryl Gregory, 2017.
Categories: Page Turners