Novel: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory is one of the field’s most versatile, inventive writers, and Spoonbenders (2017) may be the most relentlessly entertaining novel of his that I’ve read yet. This period fantasy set in the mid-nineties (uh, how is that period, already?) presents a complex, energetic, and witty portrait of the Telemachus family, a typically dysfunctional clan rendered significantly more atypical by the psychic abilities running through the family genes. Shifty, aging patriarch Teddy is more of con artist than psychic, but his three adult children are truly gifted: responsible Irene is a human lie detector, troublemaking Frankie is telekinetic, and enigmatic Buddy can see the future. Not that these powers have done them any good; on the contrary, their special abilities come with exceptional challenges that have done little to improve their lives and much to break them. But everything is about to come to a head, thanks in part to the developing psychic skills of Irene’s teenaged son Matty, who becomes a key player in a convergence of dramatic developments.

Perfectly capturing the feel of the era, Spoonbenders is an intricate comic tapestry with funny dialogue and twisty plot connections to burn. It’s one of those rare multi-protagonist books that never loses momentum, each of its point-of-view characters holding the stage with equal facility, even as flashbacks interrupt to fill in key elements of backstory. Weaved into the familial drama is a high-stakes meta-plot involving organized crime, federal agencies, and the Cold War, all of which converge on the Telemachus’ modest Chicago dwelling in an amusing, fast-paced tangle. A delightful, diverting read that my writer brain secretly envied even as my reader brain let it wash over me in an immersive, smile-inducing wave.

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