Reviews

Psychics Battle Chicago Mobsters in ‘Spoonbenders’

Daryl Gregory’s new novel is a historical sci-fi adventure.

9781524731823_7aa67Give me a story about a con man falling in love with a genuinely powerful psychic, add family loyalty and somebody mixed up with the Chicago mob, and I’m on board. Tell me this story with fast-paced prose and laugh out loud scenes, and I’m sold. That’s Daryl Gregory’s novel Spoonbenders for you, and it’s no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

Teddy Telemachus is the head of the family—or at least he is by name. Skilled at sleight of hand and card tricks, Teddy finds him a spot in a 1963 government study about human psychics. He meets his future wife there, Maureen McKinnon, who is the real deal—a tried and true psychic. Together they take on the Soviets during the Cold War, have gifted children, and take their family act on the road, only to be thwarted by the debunker Archibald and forced to settle down in Chicago.

It’s 1995, twenty-one years since Mo died. She was the true glue of their family, and the Telemachus family is still in shambles. Irene, Teddy’s oldest child, has the ability to tell when someone is lying to her. And yet she can’t hold down a job and is forced to move herself and her fourteen-year-old son Matty in with her dad. Frankie, ever the entrepreneur, tries and tries again to make it big, all while falling more and more in debt to some unpleasant mobsters. His power to move small objects seems to help him only when he least needs it. And Buddy, the youngest and most sincere Telemachus, has been mute ever since he saw the “end” of the future in a vision. The old days when the Telemachus family was a traveling act on TV are over, and the psychic family must accept their mundane life.

In true adventure style, the magic isn’t quite as over as it seems: Matty, oldest grandchild of the great Maureen and Teddy, comes into his own power when he realizes he can astral project. He launches the family into one last act while simultaneously trying to deal with teenage angst, avoiding his lie-detecting mother, and learning to control his newest gift.

The book switches between each family member’s point of view, sometimes even skipping back in time to relive Teddy and Mo’s glory days and watch their love story unfold. But the most riveting plot takes place in the present day, as Frankie makes deals with the devil and Buddy prepares for what seems like the end of the world. Matty teams up with his uncle to beat the mob, despite how fruitless the plans sound, and Teddy chases down a new love interest who ends up having not-so-coincidental connections with the very family Frankie owes a debt.

It’s a riot of a plot, but one I had no trouble following. With a less skilled author, these characters might’ve grated on a reader. But with Gregory, each voice wins you over, and you root for each one even as they run headfirst into certain failure. Even though the action is never-ending, it’s fun, and the engaging plot is supported by a clever structure. I stayed up late into the night reading chapter after chapter, pulled in by yet another fantastic line that either made me laugh or gasp in surprise.

It was refreshing to read about extraordinary abilities belonging to extra ordinary people. They struggle with love and puberty, have family squabbles and dinners, and even get sucked into the addiction of online chat rooms. Through all the magic and the mob chases, Spoonbenders zeroes in on family bonds and love and deftly weaves quirk with real emotion. The greatest feat of this book is how it allowed me to relate to this crazy family even with my boring, non-psychic genetics. With characters like these, you’re bound to love one, and I’d wager you’ll end up loving them all.

FICTION
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Knopf
Published June 27, 2017

DARYL GREGORY is the author of Afterparty, The Devil’s Alphabet, and other novels for adults and young readers. His novella We Are All Completely Fine won the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in Oakland, California.

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