Daryl Gregory – Spoonbenders

Meet Matthias Telemachus, Teddy Telemachus, Maureen Telemachus, Irene Telemachus, Frankie Telemachus and Buddy Telemachus! They were the Amazing Telemachus Family, who in the mid-1970s achieved widespread fame for their magic and mind reading act. That is, until the magic decided to disappear one night, live on national television.

We encounter this long-forgotten family two decades on, when grandson Matty, born long after the public fall from grace, discovers powers in himself and realises his hugely deflated, heavily indebted family truly are amazing. Spoonbenders is the legacy and legend of a dysfunctional, normal, entirely unique family across three generations of big personalities and socially inept recluses — each cursed with the potential of being something special.

Spoonbenders is Daryl Gregory’s latest novel, but only the second one of his works that I’ve read, the other one being Harrison Squared. I’d really enjoyed Harrison’s story and Gregory’s writing, so I was looking forward to getting stuck into Spoonbenders. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, it was completely different from Harrison’s adventures. Instead of Lovecraftian monsters and teens on a mission, this time it was The Incredibles with psychic instead of super powers fight the mob. It was an absolute blast to read, but also an incredibly moving novel about family and the ties that bind. 

The narrative structure of the story is interesting. I liked the complexity of overlapping viewpoints and flashbacks. Gregory used the various viewpoints to show us events in slightly different takes, providing additional pieces of the puzzle for the reader to form a picture of what happened. The most challenging and complex puzzle is Buddy’s story. His precognition, which mostly seems to work as an “every moment is now”-thing, makes keeping track of timelines hard for him, but also allows Gregory to play with pre-shadowing the final chapter in quite detailed ways. Buddy’s actions are often seen as completely non-sensical and irrational by his family, yet when we reach the denouement of the plot, it all falls into place beautifully.

Spoonbenders contains a multitude of love stories, both of the romantic and the familial variety. For the Telemachus clan family is family, whether blood or chosen. The love they feel for each other is unconditional, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t harsh words exchanged or that there aren’t long-held resentments that need to be aired. Much of the narrative, especially for Matty, is about finding their proper place in this mad clan and being at peace with their shared history and their present. For Irene it means letting go of always having to be the responsible one in the family, taking care of everyone, including her dad. It also means learning to trust and forgive people for not always being perfect. Something that is illustrated in a lovely way through her romance with Joshua, which in a brilliantly nineties way was developed through an AOL chatroom. One that touched me a lot was the relationship between Frankie and his stepdaughter Malice. The pride he felt when she called him dad was really beautiful and shows that blood doesn’t make a parent, love does.

A key figure in the book is the matriarch of the family Maureen McKinnon, Teddy’s beloved wife. Maureen is the invisible nexus around which the Telemachus family revolves, but despite her centrality to the narrative, she is absent for much of the novel and she is only seen through the eyes of the other characters. Her influence is a constant presence as the characters keep her memory very much alive and try to live up to her example. I loved the way her absence shaped the plot and motivated the characters, without making her a sacrifice to narrative expedience.

The conflict in the story comes from the bad choices Teddy and Frankie have made by getting involved with the mob. In Frankie’s case, is it a bad debt he needs to settle, while Teddy’s involvement ceased a long time ago, yet events in the book draw him back into conflict with the Pusateri family. I really liked this story line and the various Pusateri characters who in some ways are so over the top that they become an almost caricature of the stereotypical mobster family. Yet the shenanigans Frankie gets up to in order to try and clear his debt are hilarious even if not quite morally right and very entertaining.

Spoonbenders is a great story and a lovely read. Daryl Gregory manages to bring both laughter and tears in this caper, which is part heist novel, part bildungsroman, and all family saga. I adored it. As a standalone novel, it gives you a complete story in one package, but I was sad to close the book on the Telemachus family; I would have loved to have been able to spend more time with them. Spoonbenders has reminded me that I really need to check out the rest of Daryl Gregory’s work sooner rather than later.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • Angela

    For your next Daryl Gregory book, may I suggest either We are All Completely Fine or Pandemonium? Both are very good books. I especially loved the latter of the two. The former can be considered something of a sequel to Harrison Squared, but only sort of.