This is exactly what makes ‘Spoonbenders’ so provocative in its dissection of humanity and family. It could have easily gone down the predictable, dull path of world-ending stakes and super villains – and indeed, the potential for this is frequently teased. Instead, the world of superpowered individuals is explored on a private level, allowing for a much more insightful look at how the once-great Telemachus family copes in day-to-day life.
Each member of the superpowered family appears irrevocably broken. The lie-detecting daughter lacks complete trust, the future-predicting son is weighted with responsibility – and yet it is this struggle with their flawed nature in life’s seemingly insignificant moments that is utterly compelling.
Matty is our gateway into this world. Like us, Matty starts as an outsider who only knows of his family’s great history through nostalgic tellings and re-tellings of their golden age. His beloved grandmother, Maureen, passed away long before the main events of the narrative, but the flashbacks are so frequent and her role so significant that she may as well be considered a main character.
The connection between the two of them is strong but nuanced. Not only do Matty and Maureen display similar powers, but they also both represent the best in the family – the optimism, the independence, the naïve curiosity – while everyone else is absorbed in their own life problems.
But this isn’t to say that the family’s issues aren’t important. Irene’s lie detecting leads her to the world of online dating where she can remain blissfully unaware of suitors’ white lies, and when she finally gets the opportunity to meet the man of her dreams she must confront her own deeply rooted insecurities.
This is where Gregory’s novel excels. By having chapters that individually address each main character’s thoughts and emotions, we are granted exclusively intimate moments into the minds of “superheroes” – characters who we usually expect to be free of day-to-day stress. And once we get a grasp of each character’s role in the storyline, it is equally rewarding to see the connectedness and isolation of a family bound by nostalgia.
Daryl Gregory has weaved a narrative that is in is in equal parts mentally engaging and emotionally rewarding. This is particularly surprising for a story that proposes such a campy premise. While some plot points of Spoonbenders are not examined to their full potential, Gregory’s ability to construct believable, intriguing characters within the confines of the superhero genre is a wonderful thing to behold.
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SYNOPSIS | Goodreads
The Telemachus family is known for performing inexplicable feats on talk shows and late-night television. Teddy, a master conman, heads up a clan who possess gifts he only fakes: there’s Maureen, who can astral project; Irene, the human lie detector; Frankie, gifted with telekinesis; and Buddy, the clairvoyant. But when, one night, the magic fails to materialize, the family withdraws to Chicago where they live in shame for years. Until: As they find themselves facing a troika of threats (CIA, mafia, unrelenting skeptic), Matty, grandson of the family patriarch, discovers a bit of the old Telemachus magic in himself. Now, they must put past obstacles behind them and unite like never before. But will it be enough to bring The Amazing Telemachus Family back to its amazing life?