The novel “Spoonbenders” by Daryl Gregory tells the story of a family of psychics… who aren’t doing very well. You’d think a bunch of people with supernatural talents could use them to get ahead in life, but the three adult siblings in the Telemachus family are instead constantly stymied by their powers.
Irene can tell whether or not someone’s telling the truth, but that has ruined both relationships and jobs. Frankie can move objects with his mind… but he lacks control. He goes from running a roulette table to making it explode, and casino bosses nearly murder him. The youngest sibling, Buddy, can see the future, but only in bits and pieces. He spends the whole book counting down to something he calls “the zap.” It’s unclear to the reader until the end of the book whether this event might be the end of the world or just the end of his world.
The siblings’ aging father, Teddy Telemachus, seems to be doing better, at least well enough to support his dysfunctional children. But his powers are the most dubious of them all. It seems he’s likely just a smooth-talking con man. His children appear to have inherited their skills from their mother, Maureen. She’s been dead for 20 years, but still holds an important place as the beloved family matriarch. She was the most powerful of them all, and once worked for the CIA, using her powers to hunt Communists. But that didn’t keep her from dying young from cancer.
The entire family bitterly remembers their failed attempt at stardom as The Amazing Telemachus Family. Irene’s son, Matty, is fascinated by this past, especially when he discovers he has his grandmother’s skill of astral projection. I particularly enjoyed the humor in author Daryl Gregory’s writing. Matty, for example, finds he can only tap into his powers through masturbation or drugs.
I first heard of Gregory when he came out with his zombie novel, “Raising Stony Mayhall.” I was sucked in by the dystopian world he created, one where zombies weren’t all bad. I was also impressed that Gregory lived in State College and wrote the novel while working fulltime in IT. The book jacket on “Spoonbenders” informs me Gregory has moved to Oakland, California. Too bad. But I’m glad we can still read his books, even if we can’t call him “ours” anymore.
“Spoonbenders” was recently nominated for a Nebula Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The winner will be announced at the end of May. It’s fitting recognition for this funny and touching novel, and I wish Gregory good luck in the competition. If you enjoy science fiction or just books with interesting characters and complicated family dynamics, give “Spoonbenders” a try.
Reviewer Emily Reddy is the news director for WPSU radio.