Comic novels about dysfunctional families certainly aren’t new. Neither are novels about grifters bound together by blood and larcenous vice. It’s the personalities that make such stories feel fresh, and with Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory has created a captivating cast for a hybrid breed of story. Told from multiple points of view and leaping between past and present, it’s a hilarious portrayal of family, schemes and a few superpowers thrown in along the way.
Once upon a time, the Telemachus clan was on the verge of greatness, wowing audiences with claims of clairvoyance and telekinesis. Though the patriarch, Teddy, was merely a very skilled con man, the family had a secret weapon: The matriarch, Maureen, was an actual psychic so powerful that even the government made use of her skills. Then Maureen died, and the family’s dreams seemed to die with her.
In the present day, the Telemachuses are fragmented and defeated. Teddy tries his old moves on new women. His daughter, Irene, looks for excitement in her dull life, while her brother Frankie sells supplements and her other brother, Buddy—who has mysterious gifts of his own—constantly invents new projects as he picks apart the family home. A ray of light enters their lives when, in a moment of pubescent heat, Irene’s son, Matty, learns he has a genuine psychic gift of his own.
Despite its fantastical premise, the real power of Gregory’s novel is in his ability to pivot between several fully realized points of view with each passing chapter. The disappointment at having to leave one fascinating Telemachus behind is exceeded only by the delight in finding the next Telemachus to be just as complex, funny and genuine. These are eccentric people with eccentric lives, but the level of emotional detail at work is astounding, and Gregory’s magic touch makes even their strangest moments relatable.
These characters’ gifts merge with a brisk pace and a subtle, often bittersweet sense of comedy to make Spoonbenders an intensely endearing read. The premise will hook you, the plot will entice you, and then the Telemachuses themselves will make you fall in love.