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WesternSFA


Spoonbenders
by Daryl Gregory
Vintage; $16.95; 482 pp.
Published: June 2018

This novel is a nominee for the 2018 World Fantasy Award.  It’s extremely erudite, witty, and really well-crafted. A very New Yorker kind of novel. There are lots of characters, terrific pacing and a wonderfully whacked setting. It’s sort of like the Amazing Kweskin meets “Goodfellas.”

The Amazing Telemachus Family was at the top of their psychic, spoon-bending game when they were asked to be on the Mike Douglas Show….and then...it all fell apart. Their psychic abilities faltered and their career tanked, right there on national television.

Maureen Telemachus, the mother of the family (along with Teddy the husband, the kids Frankie, Buddy and Irene) sank in to obscurity in the burbs outside of Chicago. But, then the government came knocking: they wanted Maureen to psychically peruse what the Russians were doing, see what their weapon systems were, what they might have to launch against the U.S., etc. The rest of the Telemachus’ weren’t involved…as the government saw Maureen as the only real talent.

Maureen could use telepathy and foresee the future. The rest of the family had bits and pieces of talent, moving objects with their mind, etc. A grandson develops the ability to have out-of-body experiences and can zoom about insubstantial as ether and spy on things. But first he needs a few hits off a joint to get him, well, “flying.”

For me, reading this book was like a hot, smoggy afternoon in summer, and you’ve made the mistake of sitting on a vinyl-covered chair to get comfortable and your thighs stick unpleasantly to the surface. Even your iced tea is watery and tepid. The story made me twitchy. I didn’t like any of the characters much. Teddy Telemachus is bigger than life…but he’s a cheesy shyster and so doesn’t pull on my sympathies much. The whole family has washed out ambitions and barely-paying-the-bills kinds of jobs. Teddy and his son Frankie are hustlers. Irene is doing everything she can to keep her and her son Matty’s lives from going into the crapper…with little success. Buddy lives in his own private universe and is a bit of a puzzle to everyone.

The crux of the matter is that Frankie owes the mob a lot of money and of course getting the money is the trick, so he involves 14-year-old Matty in trying to see the numbers of the safe where the pay-off money from everyone is held. And if Frankie can sneak into the back room of the bar where the safe is, he can get the money and thwart the mob at their own game.

And then, after all this time (Maureen has been dead for many years), the government comes back into their lives because they have instruments now that can tell if someone really has psychic gifts or not. But even these “men in black” are cheesy players.

I think it’s just me.  The ending is elaborate and funny and there is resolution.

But for me, it was a hot sticky afternoon of a read. I was never comfortable enough with it to enjoy it. ~~ Sue Martin

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