I discovered this book in a roundabout way. When I was reviewing a short story collection, I ran across a story I really liked and wondered what else the writer had done. I was pleasantly surprised to find Mr. Gregory had several novels, so I ordered Spoonbenders (recommended by several readers). It’s strange, wonderful, gritty, and a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
The Telemachus family is highly unusual. They’re psychics but not very good ones. Teddy, the dad, isn’t psychic, but he is the greatest card-playing shyster ever. As a young man, conning a psychic research team for money, he encounters Maureen, a real psychic. They marry and have three children: Frankie, Irene, and Buddy. Teddy, working with the Chicago mafia, makes a mistake and has his fingers put through a pizza dough machine by Big Nick. Maureen takes over as breadwinner by remote viewing (astral projecting) for the CIA. Teddy tried taking the family on the road as performers (each of the children have some psychic ability) but was revealed as a fraud on the Mike Douglas Show.
Frankie can move things with his mind. Little things. If he’s not concentrating too hard. As an adult, he starts one bad business venture after another after discovering his powers have two settings: feeble and monumental, but he has no control. Poor ten-year-old Irene takes over as the family’s mom when Maureen dies from cancer. Her ability is to tell when someone is lying. After a bad relationship, she and her son move back in with Teddy, and she works as a grocery store clerk. Buddy, the strong and silent type, can see the future, but only to the point where he has to do things and be places but never knows why. He lives with Teddy, too, and is perpetually working on the house. He digs holes, tears out electrical wiring, and tiles the front steps with bathroom tiles.
The story begins with Matty, Irene’s teenage son. He has an out of body experience while peeping at Frankie’s stepdaughter. Unfortunately for his opportunistic uncle (who owes thousands of dollars to Big Nick), Matty can only project when he’s aroused or high. Frankie intends to use him to break into Big Nick’s safe when Matty floats above the office, searching for the combination. Irene becomes involved with a man online because she can’t tell if he’s lying or not via computer. Buddy keeps knocking holes in walls and delivering letters from his dead mother at prearranged times. Teddy chats up an attractive woman at the grocery store, plays his psychic scam on her, and discovers she’s Big Nick’s daughter-in-law. Her husband is on trial for killing someone.
You see the plot slowly develop as the family comes together to take down Big Nick. Each main character (Matty, Teddy, Frankie, Irene, and Buddy) gets their own chapters, some of them recalling their traumatic childhoods while struggling with the coincidences of encountering Big Nick. To add fuel to the fire, the CIA agent that employed Mom is stalking Mattie. They suspect he has abilities and want him to remote view for the government. In the closing chapters, the characters share scenes in their different POVs (all in third person, thank god) to intensify the climax.
The Telemachus family are not the X-Men. They’re not heroes by any stretch of the imagination, but Buddy has a secret he can’t tell anyone: he can’t see beyond September 4th at 12:06 p.m, so he doesn’t know how it’s all going to end when the bad guys show up.
Very exciting and finely crafted story that interweaves the various characters and the plot. I sometimes wanted to shake the characters for being so obtuse, and I was embarrassed for poor Matty and his stimulus. I will be looking for more of Mr. Gregory’s work if they’re as exciting and skillfully intertwoven as this novel.