I love books that begin with a great opening line.
This excerpt from Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory has just that. The excerpt below intrigued me right from the start because of the “realness” of the character. Matty was able to transport me back to when I was younger — a lot like Lev Grossman did for me in The Magicians. Gregory captures dysfunctional family dynamics as good as anyone, and he gives a great look into Matty’s personality and life.
Don’t know what Spoonbenders is? Read my interview with author Daryl Gregory here. Then read the excerpt below!
I hope you enjoy it!
Matty Telemachus left his body for the first time in the summer of 1995, when he was fourteen years old. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that his body expelled him, sending his consciousness flying on a geyser of lust and shame.
Just before it happened, he was kneeling in a closet, one sweaty hand pressed to the chalky drywall, his right eye lined up with the hole at the back of an unwired electrical outlet box. On the other side of the wall was his cousin Mary Alice and her chubby white-blonde friend. Janice? Janelle? Probably Janelle. The girls—both two years older than him, juniors, women—lay on the bed side by side, propped up on their elbows, facing in his direction. Janelle wore a spangled T-shirt, but Mary Alice—who the year before had announced that she would respond only to “Malice”—wore an oversized red flannel shirt that hung off her shoulder. His eye was drawn to the gaping neck of the shirt, following that swell of skin down down down into shadow. He was pretty sure she was wearing a black bra.
They were looking at a school yearbook while listening to Mary Alice’s CD Walkman, sharing foam headphones between them like a wishbone. Matty couldn’t hear the music, but even if he could, it was probably no band he’d heard of. Someone calling herself Malice wouldn’t tolerate anything popular. Once she’d caught him humming Hootie & the Blowfish and the look of scorn on her face made his throat close.
She didn’t seem to like him as a matter of policy, even though he had proof that she once did: a Christmas Polaroid of a four-year-old Mary Alice, beaming, with her brown arms wrapped around his white toddler body. But in the six months since Matty and his mom had moved back to Chicago and into Grandpa Teddy’s house, he’d seen Mary Alice practically every other week, and she’d barely spoken to him. He tried to match her cool and pretend she wasn’t in the room. Then she’d walk past, sideswiping him with the scent of bubblegum and cigarettes, and the rational part of his brain would swerve off the road and crash into a tree.
Out of desperation, he set down three commandments for himself:
- If your cousin is in the room, do not try to look down her shirt. It’s creepy.
- Do not have lustful thoughts about your cousin.
- Under no circumstances should you touch yourself while having lustful thoughts about your cousin.
So far tonight the first two had gone down in flames, and the third was in the crosshairs. The adults (except for Uncle Buddy, who never really left the house anymore) had all gone downtown for dinner, someplace fancy, evidently, with his mom in her interview skirt, Uncle Frankie looking like a real estate agent with a jacket over a golf shirt, and Frankie’s wife, Aunt Loretta, squeezed into a lavender pant-suit. Grandpa Teddy, of course, wore a suit and the Hat (in Matty’s mind, “Hat” was always capitalized). But even that uniform had been upgraded slightly for the occasion: gold cuff links, a decorative hand- kerchief poking up out of his breast pocket, his fanciest, diamond- studded wristwatch. They’d be back so late that Frankie’s kids were supposed to sleep over. Uncle Frankie mixed a gallon of powdered Goji Go! berry juice, placed a twenty-dollar bill with some ceremony next to the jug, and addressed his daughters. “I want change,” he said to Mary Alice. Then he pointed to the twins: “And you guys, try not to burn down the fucking house, all right?” Polly and Cassie, seven years old, appeared not to hear him.
Uncle Buddy was technically in charge, but the cousins all understood that they were on their own for the evening. Buddy was in his own world, a high-gravity planet he left only with great difficulty. He worked on his projects, he marked off the days on the refrigerator calendar in pink crayon, and he spoke to as few people as possible. He wouldn’t even answer the door for the pizza guy; it was Matty who went to the door with the twenty, and who set the two dollars’ change very carefully in the middle of the table.
Through some carefully timed choreography, Matty managed to outmaneuver Janelle-the-interloper and the twins to score the chair next to Mary Alice. He spent all of dinner next to her, hyperaware of every centimeter that separated his hand from hers.
Buddy took one piece of pizza and vanished to the basement, and the high whine of the band saw was all they heard of him for hours. Buddy, a bachelor who’d lived his entire life in this house with Grandpa Teddy, was forever starting projects—tearing down, roughing in, tacking up—but never finishing.
Like the partially deconstructed room Matty was hiding in. Until recently it and the adjoining room were part of an unfinished attic. Buddy had removed the old insulation, framed in closets, wired up lights, installed beds in both rooms—and then had moved on. This half of the attic was technically Matty’s bedroom, but most of the closet was filled with old clothes. Buddy seemed to have forgotten the clothes and the empty electrical sockets behind them.
Matty, however, had not forgotten.
Excerpted from SPOONBENDERS by Daryl Gregory, in stores now. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.