Spoonbenders Reviewed by Wally Wood of
Wally Wood

Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is an editor and writer, has published three novels, Getting Oriented:A Novel about Japan, The Girl in the Photo an  Death in a Family Business. He obtained his MA in creative writing in 2002 from the City University of New York and has worked with a number of authors as a ghostwriter and collaborator.

With an extensive background in a variety of business subjects, his credits include twenty-one nonfiction books. He spent twenty-five years as a trade magazine reporter and editor and has been a volunteer writing and business teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years. He has finished his fourth novel and has translated a collection of Japanese short stories into English.

By Wally Wood
Published on October 4, 2017

Author: Deryl Gregory

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

ISBN: 978-15247-3182-3

Author: Deryl Gregory

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

ISBN: 978-15247-3182-3

It's a good thing I wasn't reading Daryl Gregory's Spoonbenders in a public space. My giggles, chortles, and gasps disturbed only my wife. It's rare to find a novel that has sympathetic and plausible characters, a complex and satisfying plot, and is laugh-out-loud funny.

You do need to suspend your disbelief enough to accept that astral projection (traveling outside one's body), precognition (the ability to see future events), psychokinesis (the ability to move objects by mental ability alone), and the ability to truly know if someone is telling the truth (psychoveritas?) are real. Because something like 42 percent of the American public believe in ghosts, this should not be a big stretch for many people.

Spoonbenders is the story of the Amazing Telemachas Family and some impatient readers may be put off by so many names, so many relationship, so quickly in the book. If so, they'll miss a lot: Teddy, a charming con man and card shark; Maureen, his wife who has genuine psychic powers; their three children, Irene, Frankie, and Buddy, who each have a psychic power. Teddy takes his young family on stage—Irene is only ten, Buddy five—and after a year is booked onto the Mike Douglas Show, an opportunity for the family to show its stuff and crack the big time.

The performance is a disaster. The family is discredited on national television. Maureen dies of cancer (a family tragedy Frankie attributes to the public humiliation), the children grow up. Irene has a son, Matty. Frankie marries a single mother, the parent of Mary Alice, and they have twins. And Buddy lives with his father in suburban Chicago. All this and more is essentially backstory. The novel begins in Matty's point of view:

"Matty Telemachus left his body for the first time in the summer of 1995, when he was fourteen years old. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that his body expelled him, sending his consciousness flying on a geyser of lush and shame." He has been looking through a peephole at his sixteen-year-old cousin and her girlfriend as they lay suggestively on a guest bed, struggling to observe one of his own commandments: "Under no circumstances should you touch yourself while having lustful thoughts about your cousin."

We follow Mattie, Teddie, Irene, Frankie, and Buddy into a complex plot involving a secret US government Cold War program, Chicagoland gangsters, a couple of improbable—but convincing—romances, and more.

Aside from the engaging plot, Gregory writes wonderful sentences. Here are a couple examples:

"Buddy sought our Irene's eyes with a classic Buddy look: mystified and sorrowful, like a cocker spaniel who'd finally eviscerated his great enemy, only to find everyone angry and taking the side of the couch pillow."

"Mitzi's Tavern was starting to fill up with the after-work crowd, if you could use the word 'crowd' to describe the dozen wretches who huddled here for a beer and a bump before facing the wife. The décor was Late-Period Dump: ripped-vinyl booths, neon Old Style signs, veneer tabletops, black-speckled linoleum in which 80 percent of the specks weren't. The kind of place that was vastly improved by dim lighting and alcoholic impairment."

And here's how to write dialogue. Irene is talking to her father before she leaves on a trip: "She would not let him forget about the time he babysat Matty when he was two. 'He's a teenager now, not a toddler,' said Teddy. 'This time if he drinks a glass of gin it will be on purpose.'"

All in all, I say Spoonbenders is a delightful novel that deserves to be read widely.