SPOONBENDERS, Daryl Gregory’s immensely entertaining novel, takes us inside a wacky family endowed with special psychic gifts. “Gifts” may be the wrong word — because not one of the family’s psychic powers is in good working order, nor does anyone particularly want them.
For the most part, the Telemachus family would prefer to be left alone, like ordinary suburbanites, to live out their lives in peace. But of course …
… that won’t happen. And we know it won’t because we’re told in the opening sentence that 14-year-old Mattie Telemachus has just taken his very first astral-plane trip out of his body. What else would a kid do with such power but get into trouble?
Mattie is the grandson of the beautiful, famous, and and truly gifted Maureen Telemachus, and he is the son of Irene Telemachus, who at 31 is broke and broken. Mattie and Irene have moved back into the family home to live with grandfather Teddy and uncle Buddy.
A second uncle, Frankie, is married with children—and saddled with debt. That last part is important, so don’t forget it.
So what could possibly go wrong? Plenty.
For starters the CIA shows up, desperate to harness, for espionage, the psychic powers of the next Telemachus generation. Agents come prepared with hilarious “micro-lepton” guns and “torsion field” detectors. They worry about how to measure “psi ability” and “tau states.” Omg.
Of course, we can’t leave the mafia out of the line-up. That debt of uncle Frankie’s? Well, that, plus grandfather Teddy’s history as a con man all but guarantee that the will mob put in appearance, as well.
A couple of romances are thrown in for good measure — and a surprising, most unlikely hero emerges to save the day. And it’s quite a day — a single day — which builds to total chaos, gunshots, screaming children, bloody faces, an adorable puppy, and a trap door.
Gregory’s plot is intricate, almost too much so. Chapters alternate among characters, and each chapter contains different time frames. The flashbacks are important because they reel out information, bit at a time. Still, the overall effect can feel choppy to the point of irksomeness. But have patience, friends — that big, splashy payoff at the end is worth it.
The characters are prickly, lonely, damaged, and thoroughly lovable. To be honest, if you’re in a book club, this isn’t a novel with a lot of heady ideas for discussion. But it’s a great one for reading passages out loud and laughing. If you’re up for that.
Spoonbenders is more fun than I’ve had since reading The Regional Office is Under Attack. And funny that — because Miguel Gonzalez, the author of that book, reviewed this one in the New York Times. And, yes, he liked it.
P.J. teaches high school AP English. After dusting off the blackboard chalk, he pens essays and reviews (and works on his desk-drawer novel). An avid reader and self-proclaimed nerd, P.J. leans to sci-fi but also enjoys nonfiction—science and technology, history and current events.