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The Great Perhaps ~ Joe Meno

June 10, 2009


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Genre: Adult Fiction

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

414pp.

ISBN: 9780393067965

The members of the Casper family are pulling its existence apart at the seams. Running headlong in four vastly different directions, John, Madeline, Amelia and Thisbe each seem to embody one faction of American society in their own convoluted ways.

John, a paleontologist, is on a frenzied nautical life-mission to track down a prehistoric, giant squid. He faints at the sight of clouds of any form unless he has taken a pill. When we find him, both predicaments have worn thin on the three women in his life but neither one seem to be at any near point of conclusion.
Madeline, an animal behaviorist, is observing pigeons in captivity to track trends in power dynamics. She has committed the researcher sin of forging an attachment with several of the birds, making it emotionally devastating when they begin destroying each other in a murderous hierarchy. This tragedy compounds her disappointment with her failing marriage. Soon after the story starts, Madeline beings to see a man-shaped cloud, an entity she eventually leaves to pursue.
Their oldest daughter, Amelia, is a teenage anarchist intent on blowing up her school, which she finds to be the embodiment of corrupt politics, or the local, Starbucks or both. She continually lands herself in sticky situations with the school staff, such as publishing a school paper blast exposing their alleged labor atrocities involving the kitchen staff.

Their younger daughter, Thisbe has recently taken up the hobby of praying which she does from sun up to sun down at every turn in her day, much to the annoyance of her parents and sister who have deemed the practice of any religion antiquated. Her born-again, borderline xenophobic tendencies serve to confuse and exasperate her mother who believes that they are in direct relation to the problems in the parents’ relationship.

Henry, John’s father, is confined to a nursing home and is attempting to silence himself out of existence by limiting his words, dropping one word from the count every day. The institution warns his family that he has limited time left but the Caspers seem too disorganized to assemble any concrete sense of worry.
Meno has created a beautifully abstract yet hauntingly realistic look at the current state of the American family. His prose is simple and succinct but the overall dynamic of the book is complex enough that the larger effect is one of intricate, layered storytelling. The book is written moving forward in a tag team effort, alternating through the five family members in order. In this manner, we never see the same exact scene from two different views but we do have a sense of similar themes along the same timeline in different voices.

I will say this as a warning: I loved this book but I enjoy post-modern, experimental literature. I adore Pynchon and Vonnegut. Meno follows closely behind those two gentlemen. It is much more accessible than Pynchon while remaining more complex than a Vonnegut. If abstract wanderings and surrealist flashbacks are not your cup of tea than this will most likely hit a low note for you. If you are looking for a quick and readable, albeit dark and twisted mini-romp through the postmodern family, however, this is definitely a book for you.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2009 1:33 pm

    This looks like a great book. I’ll have to add it to me to-read list, which, unfortunately, right now is outta control.

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