Family is — well — family.
That’s hardly a revelatory statement. And let’s face it, the world’s literary landscape is rife with family tales, from Adam and Eve onward. However, few recent iterations have been as warm, as beguiling, as “Spoonbenders,” the tale Daryl Gregory has written about the Teddy Telemachus family in Chicago of 1995.
As a young man, Teddy Telemachus quickly, almost desperately, learns the art of the “sting.” Always short of cash, the charming Teddy volunteers for a project on ESP at the University of Chicago, a project covertly backed by the federal government. At his initial interview, he becomes absolutely smitten with the spellbinding Maureen McKinnon.
It seems that, unlike Teddy, Maureen is the real thing. She is a genuine psychic. As Teddy recollects her: “We’re talking long-distance, highly targeted clairvoyance.” Con man cannot marry psychic quickly enough.
And they have three children. Irene is, to put things succinctly, a lie detector. Frankie can use his mind to move physical objects. Buddy can see into the future. Combining their psychic abilities with Teddy’s proficiency at the con, they become the Amazing Telemachus Family.
Then there’s a disastrous appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” where Teddy’s artlessness overshadows the others’ psychic powers. Soon after, sudden tragedy overpowers the family.
By 1995, the three Telemachus children are not very amazing. Irene is so aware of the lies around her that it becomes more and more difficult for her to hold down a job, or hold onto anyone she might be attracted to. Frankie owes money to the most nefarious of characters and can’t seem to make any money hustling energy shake powder. Buddy just keeps digging that hole in the backyard.
But children have children. “Spoonbenders” begins to focus on Matty, Irene’s 14-year-old son, a teenager who has just had his first out-of-body experience, one that he is both wary of and exhilarated by.
Then Destin Smalls of the CIA (“The last of the man’s football-hero good looks had been swallowed by age and carbohydrates”) starts nosing around Grandpa Teddy again, this time wondering which of his grandkids might prove to be of some benefit to the government.
What follows is both rousing for the reader and amazing for the Telemachus family. Moving back and forth seamlessly among generations, this heartfelt family comedy always reminds us that we have within us powers capable of forming family.
At the end of “Spoonbenders,” Daryl Gregory, tongue firmly in cheek, acknowledges the help he received in composing his engaging new work. “My thanks to the gullible members of Congress who funded Project Star Gate for decades, and provided so much material for this novel. … There are no mind readers, no remote viewers, no water dousers, no one who can warp kitchen utensils with the power of their mind — except in fiction. But isn’t that enough?”
Add family into the mix, and the answer becomes a resounding, Yes!
Steven Whitton retires in a few days as Professor of English at Jacksonville State University.