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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*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