American families are famously fractious. It’s normal to argue, the kvetch, to get entrenched in an unreasonable position. It’s less normal to read minds, detect if one family member or another is telling the truth, or to move paper clips, say, or pinballs with your mind. But that’s the Amazing Telemachus family, and they have sort of learned to deal with one another over the years. In Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders, the seemingly wild and wooly Telemachus clan, with their varying degrees of psychic prowess, might seem a bit weird at first – like most families. But spend some quality time with them, and they start to seem like a pretty good vision of American suburbia as it slowly fractures while the world inches towards the 21st century.
Matty, the third generation, is a hormone-driven teenager who has his first out-of-body experience as he has his first … (nearly) sexual experience. It’s a funny scene, and fantastic example of how Gregory combines humor and heart with his imaginative science-fiction trope to externalize the untold anxieties of adolescent males. The Telemachus family once stood on stage with Mike Douglas, where instead of becoming famous, they were debunked. Teddy Telemachus, who has no psychic powers other than sleight-of-hand, his wife Maureen (a powerful remote viewer employed by the US government), their daughter Irene (the human lie detector), their son Frankie (weakly and unreliably telekinetic), and Buddy, who can see the future so clearly that he’s never sure when, as opposed to where he is, are tossed on the scrapheap of washed-up never-weres. But the family endures.
Most of the novel is set in the 1990’s, as the now disparate Telemachus clan are forced by hard times and bad choices to return to the Teddy’s home. Maureen died in the 1970’s, but she’s still sending Teddy letters of advice hen he needs them. The forces coming after the family now are all economic; money jobs, debt, employment, being sort of psychic makes all that harder, don’t you know? And your average totally not-average American family can pretty much pull together when push comes to shove, which you can bet will happen in this wonderfully plotted and engaging novel.
For all that the various powers and government programs to exploit them are the compelling stuff of page-turning excitement, the greatest moments in this book seamlessly combine plot and character moments to really get under your skin. Gregory hews to the science fiction side of the psychic world and gets more mileage out of the limits and foibles of average and sort-of flawed people with powers than he could ever achieve with big set pieces. There are great scenes in this book, make no mistake, and they feel big, but more believable. Psychics, schmycics, whatever – the true and most powerful powers of the Telemachus family are love, forgiveness and regret. And while these are psychic powers, they are powers we can all aspire to. If you need to bend a spoon, find a pair of pliers.
Daryl Gregory in person seems almost as if he might be one of the Telemachus family. He has the full-bore enthusiasm combined with a laid back version of showmanship. Moreover, as we spoke, you could really feel his American family almost in the room with us. Fractious, perhaps, but ultimately, sweet, entertaining and bracing. And he does give me a ‘yes-or-no” answer to the “Do you believe?” question. You can follow this link to our lightning round interview, or use your 21st century psychic powers to listen below
For an extended journey on the astral plane, you can follow this link to listen to our in-depth interview. If you’re prepared to circle the earth without leaving your seat, just listen to below. If you levitate while doing so, make sure to catch it on your phone!