Spoonbenders is a slow burning story that I urge you to stick with despite its meandering narrative. I frequently put this one down and thought about giving up but my sister had warned me that it may take a while to get going so I stuck with it. Ultimately this is a strange but enjoyable book about the psychic Telemachus family in 1995 Chicago.
“I can’t believe this is allowed by state law. You can’t just put a pile of shaved beef—” “Italian beef,” she said. “Italian beef on top of a sausage—” “Italian sausage.” “Right, and then they just let you eat it?” “In Chicago,” she said, “meat is a condiment.”
Our story begins twenty years after the family was outed on national TV as frauds. While Teddy, our patriarch, is nothing more than a cunning, personable con artist his late wife, Maureen, was the real deal and their three children inherited her gift. Irene is a human lie detector test, albeit with some limitations, Frankie can move things with his mind and Buddy can see the future.
Irene, now a single mother, has moved back into her father’s house with her son, Matty, who accidentally discovers his own dormant abilities while spying on his (step-) cousin. Frankie has three daughters and a struggling business which has, unbeknownst to his wife, put him in debt to the mob. Buddy, the baby of the family, still lives with his father but he barely talks to anyone and is constantly beginning strange projects around the house.
On one level Spoonbenders is a coming of age story about a young boy who is stuck in a strange house with strange people who discovers his own special abilities which connects him to his lineage. But this isn’t just Matty’s story, each Telemachus narrates their own portion of the novel’s events. Matty’s mother has a fully fleshed out plot involving the early days of AOL chat rooms and online romances. Buddy’s narrative is the most illuminating despite his minimal interaction with his family. Uncle Frankie’s money problems are also a key plot point that threads together several of the other story lines. He is easily the least likable character.
And then there is Teddy who still misses his dead wife and goes to the grocery store everyday to fall in love with strangers. One of these strangers opens up to Teddy and provides an opportunity for redemption for the eldest Telemachus. Interspersed throughout the present day story line are glimpses of the past, primarily when Maureen was alive at working as a psychic spy of sorts during the Cold War.
Each character’s story line has its own beginning, middle and end but, most importantly and impressively, they all come together to make the other story lines stronger.