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The Great Perhaps: A Novel Hardcover – May 11, 2009

47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Meno (Hairstyles of the Damned) continues to employ his keen observations of human nature, this time exploring the tumultuous landscapes of a contemporary Chicago family. The narrative rotates between members of the Casper family, giving each time and space to dig into their respective quirks. Jonathan, the father, is a scientist caught in a quest for a prehistoric squid and is prone to seizures at the sight of clouds. Madeline, Jonathan's wife, also a scientist, studies the behavior of her murderous lab pigeons and is distressed by the growing distance between family members: elder daughter Amelia is a teenage anticapitalist crusader already becoming weary of the fight; youngest daughter Thisbe's desire to find God is met with much concern from her atheist parents; grandfather Henry's sole desire is to make himself disappear. As the family's preoccupations rattle on and bang up against one another, the recently begun war in Iraq provides background noise and another dimension to the intricate and intimate tale. Meno's handle on the written word is fresh and inviting, conjuring a story that delves deeply into the human heart. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Meno’s distinctively imaginative and compassionate fiction is forged at the intersection of ordinariness and astonishment. In this tragicomic family drama, his fifth novel, he creates a topsy-turvy household. Jonathan and Madeline Casper, timid and insular, are scientists at the University of Chicago. He is devoted to the elusive giant squid and prone to seizures at the sight of a cloud; she is conducting a bizarrely disastrous lab experiment involving pigeons. Amelia, the older of their two teen daughters, is suspended for writing inflammatory editorials in the school paper, while Thisbe has taken to ardent prayer. With anxiety running high over the Iraq War and the 2004 election, Madeline takes off in pursuit of a strange man-shaped cloud; Jonathan hides in a child’s fort of sheet-draped furniture; their valiant, neglected daughters run amok, and Henry, Jonathan’s ailing father, escapes from the nursing home. As Meno masterfully, and meaningfully, conflates the fantastic with the everyday, he reaches back to Henry’s broken childhood and a stint in a World War II internment camp for German Americans. Tender, funny, spooky, and gripping, Meno’s novel encompasses a subtle yet devastating critique of war; sensitively traces the ripple effect of a dark legacy of nebulousness, guilt, and fear; and evokes both heartache and wonder. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 414 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (May 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393067963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393067965
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #971,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Chicago. He is the winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and a finalist for the Story Prize. He is the author of seven novels including the bestsellers Hairstyles of the Damned and The Boy Detective Fails, and two short story collections including Demons in the Spring. His non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times and Chicago Magazine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Friedrichs on June 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I first started reading the Great Perhaps, I loved the author's style of writing. Simple, to the point, and the characters are a little quirky: one rebellious teenager, one religious daughter, an unsatisfied mom and an oblivious father. Right off it reminded me of the book the Corrections, but I didn't like any of the characters in the Corrections. In the Great Perhaps, I at least started liking them.

But then, it became harder to like anyone. The rebellious teenager is at the extreme end of hating government, hating corporations, and pretty much hating everyone. Having grown up with a lot of teenagers that had similiar ideas to her, I could relate, however they would never have been as wild, childish and immature as she was. Pipe bombs and ranting editorials? I don't understand how this girl should have such a mature outlook on how the government really is and how media controls what society knows about, and then she blows it but having temper tantrums and hissy fits.

The mother and father have marital problems, and each of them try to deal with everything in their own seperate, strange ways. The religious daughter, who does have a "Are You There God, it's Me Margaret" quality about her is probably the least confusing, turning to a God that she is not sure that she believes in because she knows that her family is starting to travel the road of the emotional breakdown.

Like I said in the title of this review, I went into this book thinking I was going to love it, but only ended up liking it. I am interested in reading other books by this author as well, but am nervous of finding the patterns of overly obvious character development in each one.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By April Blake VINE VOICE on June 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Great Perhaps" is one of those books where you finish it and just think, "wow." The characters themselves are fairly unpleasant in the beginning, and do nothing readily remarkable. Although the characters belong to the same family, and four of them live in the same house, for much of the story, it reads like a collective monologue. Just four narcissists and a shell of a grandfather going through their insignificant lives.

Then author Joe Meno works his magic. I do not want to sound gushy and I definitely do not want to give away anything in the plot, anything about the characters. If you're thinking about buying and reading this book, do. The characters will not make a wonderful first impression on you, but the narrative voice, the style, will pull you through and make you want to keep reading, and you'll be rewarded. At least I feel like I was. Rewarded without being preached at, uplifted in a way, without the use of cheesy plot devices.

If you would like something to compare "The Great Perhaps" to, think of "White Noise" by Don DeLillo, which is a novel also peopled by characters who muddle through this modern world, maybe trying to make sense of it, maybe simply interested in gazing into a mirror, but it's impossible for the reader to make quick decisions about them, about the story. I cannot recommend "The Great Perhaps" enough, and the reason is best summed up by a line from the book itself: "It's beautiful because it's complicated."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Ray VINE VOICE on June 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Great Perhaps is the novel that The Corrections should have been: witty, empathetic, and engaging. Jonathan is an academic scientist married to Madeline, another academic scientist. Although he loves his family, he is far too distracted by an internet girlfriend, a Jacques Cousteau-like paleontologist rival, and his pursuit of a giant squid to recognize that he has lost touch with the concerns of his wife and children. The pigeons upon which Madeline's research is based are raping and killing each other, his eldest daughter Amelia is constructing a pipe bomb and constantly wearing a beret, and his youngest Thisbe may be a lesbian though she feels guilty about it and prays a lot. Additionally, Jonathan's father is in a nursing home and seldom seems mentally present anymore, despite the fact that Jonathan still needs guidance. When Madeline temporarily becomes as self-serving as he is and demands a separation at the same time as his father's health falters, Jonathan becomes unraveled and consequently so does the rest of the family.

The chapters of The Great Perhaps for the most part focus on one of the five members of the Casper family. Joe Meno is at his best when describing the characters of Jonathan and particularly his children. Jonathan is the quirky stereotype of a man facing a mid-life crisis, while Amelia is the epitome of teenage angst. He missteps slightly in telling Henry's story, which involves German spies and Japanese internment camps. These chapters and a couple which don't pertain to the main story (labeled "historically significant") do not seem to fit with the dark but humorous tone of the rest of the novel, and could have been omitted.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Martin on August 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is divided into chapters devoted to each of the quirky members of a very intelligent but highly dysfunctional family. Three generations of quirkiness and turmoil, a family divided and on the verge of falling apart. The book reads like a series of short stories, with limited interaction among family members. The grandfather's story goes back to the World War II era, in a particularly absorbing interlude, but mainly the book is set in the current day. Rounding out the cast of characters, you have the absentminded professor father, the frustrated mother, the rebellious older teenage daughter, and the younger teen daughter trying to find meaning in religion despite being brought up without it.

There is a particularly strange plot line involving the mother that brought me abruptly out of the world of the story, though up until then I'd been suspending disbelief. Now, granted this is a story of eccentrics, but the character of the mother is the most grounded, least eccentric of the family, and to me this part of the story was jarring and out of place. I also lack patience with self-absorbed teenagers in real life, and have little desire to read about annoying fictional teens (the older rebellious sister in particular--the younger one was much more tolerable). This bias did affect my enjoyment of the book as well.

I do believe I'm suffering from "dysfunctional family drama" fatigue at this point; if I'd read this one before the many others I've already read, I suspect my review would have been more favorable. I get the impression that the authors writing in this genre are striving to outdo each other in the wackiness and eccentricities of their fictional characters, sometimes to the point of unbelievability.
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