Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Meet the Amazing Telemachus Family, famous for appearing across the land in the mid-seventies. Their live TV appearances featured charming, fast-talking conman Teddy and his wife Maureen, a genuine and immensely gifted psychic, along with their three children: human lie-detector Irene, telepath Frankie and clairvoyant Buddy. Then, one night, their magic disastrously fails them. The novel picks up 30 years later, when their lives seem anything but amazing. They’re heartbroken and abandoned, in debt to the local mafia, and digging holes in the garden. All is seemingly despondent until Irene’s 14-year-old son Matty discovers a little magic of his own. Now everyone from the mob to the CIA are knocking at the Telemachus’s doors and it’s going to take every last drop of talent the family has left to ride this one out.
This novel reminded me of Australian author Steven Amsterdam’s wonderful 2013 novel What the Family Needed, which also featured a family with extraordinary powers. As with that story, Spoonbenders uses its characters’ powers to magnify their desires and flaws in smart, interesting ways, emphasising the novel’s emotional depth. Daryl Gregory has thoughtfully imagined how daily life might be impacted by having such abilities, and the world he paints is richly nuanced.
The Telemachuses are not the all-powerful psychics promoted by their former TV legend. Their talents are unpredictable and unreliable, both a gift and curse that they must learn to navigate. Irene’s ability to spot a lie leads her to feel isolated from those around her, so she seeks solace in an internet chat room. Buddy’s visions of the future have him anticipating the worst, unless he can find a creative way to retell the story of what he’s seen. Spoonbenders is a caper with a glowing heart. A reader who loves the mess and tangles of dysfunctional families (and who doesn’t?) will find plenty on offer here.
Bronte Coates is the digital content coordinator and the Readings Prizes manager.