Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory. Book review

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, Riverrun, 2017, h/b £14.99

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

This is a superbly entertaining novel. It has a rich humour leavened with a sense of the ridiculous. It is well-written, beautifully constructed, competently narrated and professionally edited. The entire presentation is exceptional, so why give it the completely naff title of `Spoonbenders’.

To this hardy soul, a spoon-bender is jam roly-poly with custard, something to dig your spoon into during the dangerously rare yet exciting pursuit of pudding. I have neighbours who chase foxes, which is their loss! This all serves to demonstrate the cultural divides that prevail today in what is still called western civilisation. There is an illusion of unity in that we all roughly speak the same language but there is a wholesale decline in common reference points. People like me are used to tales of clairvoyance. You can’t get away from it in the fantasy genre without experiencing instances. It can easily become tedious. I have even met real people who claim such irritating skills only to shake my head in hypocritical sorrow when their truth adopts the consistency of heavy, wet clay. I have even had a very highly paid idiot telling me what I was thinking. He was laughing about it, so had absolutely no idea what I was actually thinking. It is foolishly easy to ride a rush of adrenalin in the expectation that something positive will happen, but much harder to transform events to meet the exciting vision initially made manifest. The reality is that life is hard work. The publisher understands this all too well so has used the trick of this title to draw the attention of the wider fiction buying public into contemplating the bizarre Telemachus family and their complex associations.

This story has depth. To fully grasp its entire nature, it needs to be read two to three times. This subtlety creates extraordinary good value. A case in point is the moment when Irene Telemachus has a job interview set up for her by her lover who wants her to move to Arizona. This episode is pure unadulterated satire of what today is euphemistically called human resources. It allows the reader to get their own revenge. Put any face you want onto each named character and join in the jeering!

The narrative comes through the eyes, the thoughts and the back-stories of each member of the Telemachus family during the few months leading up to 4th September, 1995. Each chapter is structured around one of the key characters. There is the young teenage boy Matthias or Matty who is discovering astral travel. There is also his card-sharping, trickster grandfather, Teddy who is a canny box of frogs. There is his mother Irene who knows when someone is lying but she is struggling not to be unhappy. Then there are her brothers, the incompetent Frankie, and the confused Buddy who, whilst living in linear time thinks across the entire dimension of his life up until the fateful date of 4th September, 1995. The characterisation of Buddy is well worth a psychological study all of its own. Perhaps a doctorate for an English literature student in twenty years’ time.

Teddy tells us he doesn’t do magic, but magic tricks. He met his now deceased wife Maureen on a government funded project into far-seeing during the Cold War. We all heard about it, didn’t we? It transpired that she was the real psychic whilst Teddy was a practised faker. She even made her own agreement with her Soviet counterpart to frustrate both sides in the objective of their far-seeing programmes. She becomes Teddy’s lover and eventually marries him. Each of their children have some form of psychic expertise. The oldest, Irene can detect deceit and works as a book-keeper. This is a good trade for someone with honesty and integrity although she always falls out eventually with every employer. Frankie can practise psycho-kinesis but abuses it by trying to corrupt roulette wheels, pinballs and safe combinations. He provides the moral commentary in this tale. Buddy on the other hand, is the planner transforming Teddy’s house so that it is ready to meet the events of 4th September 1995.

Teddy has had dealings with The Mob but has largely been able to stay one step ahead of them, except once which is a lesson he can’t forget. Frankie also has dealings with The Mob but conspires to stay one step behind them and suffers the consequences. The denouement involves The Mob, a federal psychic researcher and his team, along with an entire covey of relatives and friends. This is the page-turning bit and very funny.

The tale has several plots and schemes running through it which add to the sheer richness of the story. It is like reading the strands of a rope whilst the whole rope drags you along to an exciting conclusion. I suppose this simile is what a good novel is all about.

As mentioned above this is an exceptionally presented piece of the publishing art. At £14.99 in hard cover some will think it pricey. However, it is very good value as not only will you read it a couple of times, you will want to encourage others to read it. Also, a nicely presented piece of book-art is a delight in itself.  If you do lend it out, just make sure you get it back.