Spoonbenders


Although the premise did pique my curiosity, initially I wasn't planning to read Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders. At least not in the near future. But then I remembered that my hiking trip in the French Alps was coming up and I always try to pick up "lighter" material to bring with me, so the book ended up in my suitcase.

And I'm sure glad I brought this novel along, for this is the most fun I've had reading in a long, long time! If Terry Pratchett and Neal Stephenson had ever teamed up to work on something, this is the sort of tale they would have come up with. With Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory truly hit it out of the park!

Here's the blurb:

Teddy Telemachus is a charming con man with a gift for sleight of hand and some shady underground associates. In need of cash, he tricks his way into a classified government study about telekinesis and its possible role in intelligence gathering. There he meets Maureen McKinnon, and it’s not just her piercing blue eyes that leave Teddy forever charmed, but her mind—Maureen is a genuine psychic of immense and mysterious power. After a whirlwind courtship, they marry, have three gifted children, and become the Amazing Telemachus Family, performing astounding feats across the country. Irene is a human lie detector. Frankie can move objects with his mind. And Buddy, the youngest, can see the future. Then one night tragedy leaves the family shattered.

Decades later, the Telemachuses are not so amazing. Irene is a single mom whose ear for truth makes it hard to hold down a job, much less hold together a relationship. Frankie’s in serious debt to his dad’s old mob associates. Buddy has completely withdrawn into himself and inexplicably begun digging a hole in the backyard. To make matters worse, the CIA has come knocking, looking to see if there’s any magic left in the Telemachus clan. And there is: Irene’s son Matty has just had his first out-of-body experience. But he hasn’t told anyone, even though his newfound talent might just be what his family needs to save themselves—if it doesn’t tear them apart in the process.

Harnessing the imaginative powers that have made him a master storyteller, Daryl Gregory delivers a stunning, laugh-out-loud new novel about a family of gifted dreamers and the invisible forces that bind us all.

Spoonbenders takes place in Chicago in the summer of 1995. The once popular Amazing Telemachus Family is in shambles. They used to astonish spectators and viewers until an incident on national television destroyed their credibility and put an end to their traveling show. Decades down the line, this family, whose future once seemed so bright, is in total disarray. Daryl Gregory captured the setting perfectly. He takes us back down memory lane, to a time when the internet was just beginning (Remember those America Online CDs we used to get in the mail every week), and the Chicago Cubs suck and their fans are resigned to the fact that they may never again achieve greatness, and he fills this book chock-full of pop culture tidbits from that era. For that alone, the novel is worth reading. Indeed, in every chapter or so there's something from the 80s or the 90s that you had forgotten and suddenly rings a bell, and which then opens up a Pandora's box filled to the brim with other related and unrelated memories.

The Telemachuses are a deeply dysfunctional yet endearing family. It's been quite a while since I've enjoyed following the misadventures of a bunch of protagonists as much as I loved reading about thesm. The structure of the novel alternates between the perspectives of the five main characters and each chapter focuses on one in particular. Teddy Telemachus, patriarch and the only parent left since the death of his beloved wife Maureen, is a charming cardshark who's doing his best to keep his family together. Try as he might, it looks as though everything is going down the crapper fast. Frankie, who at a younger age could move objects with his mind, is now a man with too many harebrained schemes who owes a fortune to the mafia for past failed projects. Irene is a human lie detector who lost her job in Pittsburgh and is forced to move back with her father with her teenage son Matty. Buddy, a clairvoyant who seemingly lost his mind when his mother died, is digging a giant hole in his father's backyard and turning the basement into a bunker, preparing the house for a future only he can foresee. And young Matty, who that summer will discover that his grandmother's blood did indeed leave him with some latent powers that are now manifesting themselves.

Technically, such disparate characters shouldn't work so well together. But Gregory weaves their storylines in a way that comes together in a surprising and touching manner. It takes a while for Spoonbenders to begin to make sense. This is mostly due to the fact that each character must be introduced and elaborated on, and this process takes some time. Having said that, at no point is this a problem, for getting to know the Telemachus family is definitely a highlight of the novel. Once all five protagonists and their backstories have been established, the author weaves the plotlines together and you finally get an inkling of what this story is supposed to be about. It mostly has to do with Buddy's visions and the future he has been preparing for for decades.

At times hilarious and at times profoundly moving, Gregory's Spoonbenders explores how powerful and yet fickle family ties can be. The book works so well because there is a little of each of us, as well as our own parents and siblings, in each of these characters. Which is why some scenes strike a chord and why, even though they're not always the most likeable people or the sharpest tools in the shed, in the end we can't help but root for them.

The author closes the show with a satisfying and fitting ending. Still, there is a bit of disappointment stemming from the fact that this the last you'll read about the Telemachus extended family and you wish there was more. Indeed, I can't think of a more engaging bunch, no matter how hard I try.

Extremely funny, intelligent, compassionate, and touching; that's Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders in a nutshell. Believe you me: This is the most fun you'll have reading this summer!

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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