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3.8 out of 5 stars24
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on 29 March 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is described as "darkly funny, lyrical and shrewdly observant". In my opinion, it isn't really any of those things and has very little to recommend it.

The Great Perhaps is quite a common genre of novel, about modern family life and the challenges this brings. It depicts the various lives of the Casper family, husband (Jonathan), wife (Madeline), two daughters and grandfather. It also includes some 'historical notes' that stretch back in time to the 17th century. There isn't very much of a plot, other than a context in which Madeline threatens to leave the absent-minded Jonathan, who is pursuing a prehistoric giant squid. The main content of the book is the mundane, everyday lives of the different family members.

It's very rarely that I'll give a book one star, and I do so reluctantly. Some people might enjoy this book but I found it disjointed, tedious and with a writing style that I can only describe as gimmicky - 'figures' in the book depict line drawings of clouds and cars, and each paragraph in the chapters that describe Madeline's life have a letter of the alphabet before them. But these oddities add little to the story and are just annoying.

All in all, I would definitely avoid this novel - in my opinion it's not worth the time it will take to read it.
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VINE VOICEon 6 April 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's hard to sum up the plot of this novel, because there is so little of it. The joy of it is not in what happens, but in watching the characters - the four members of a middle-class Chicago family - go about their lives, which, despite sharing a house, are more or less completely unconnected. Jonathan Casper is a research scientist, and his passion is the giant squid. He is endlessly thwarted by a younger, better-looking French rival who always seems to be in the right place at the right time when specimens surface. Jonathan's obsessive dedication to his work leads him to neglect his teaching at the University of Chicago, to have little idea about what is going on his daughters' lives, and to leave the running of the house to his wife, Madeline. Madeline is feeling increasingly resentful: she has her own career as a scientist, specialising in avian behaviour, and things are not going well with her research into dominance and hierarchy among pigeons. While Jonathan and Madeline's marriage is jeopardised by Jonathan's behaviour, their daughters are negotiating the difficult territory of high school. Thisbe is fourteen, and has few friends. Raised an atheist, she has suddenly developed a fascination with religion and prayer which borders on the obsessive-compulsive, much to Madeline's annoyance. Thisbe is desperate to be a singer and to use her voice to celebrate God, but is saddled with a terrible voice. At chorus practice, where has been relegated to accompanist, she meets the fascinating Roxie with her obnoxious attitude and beautiful voice, and an awkward friendship begins to emerge. Thisbe's sister Amelia is seventeen and believes herself a Marxist, seeing her role as editor of the school newspaper as one through which she must raise the consciousnesses of her unenlightened classmates. She bends all school assignments to her revolutionary ideals, creating a pipe bomb for a science project, and interpreting the brief for her history project as allowing her to write a film which proclaims "Capitalism is lame... George Bush is a terrorist..." For this is 2004, the presidential election looms, and America is confronted on a daily basis with the consequences of the invasion of Iraq.

While Jonathan, Madeline and their daughters are absorbed in the day-to-day, Jonathan's father, Henry, is hating his existence in a care home and carefully plotting his escape. As he counts down to when he will make his attempt, he withdraws a little more each day, gradually saying less and less and rationing what he feels are his final words. During this waiting period, Henry runs over his memories and summarises each one up in a few words, which he writes down addressed "to whom it may concern" and mails back to himself at the care home. Many of Henry's memories are to do with war: the arrest of his German father at the outbreak of World War Two; his family's interment in an American camp for enemy aliens; his own work as an engineer on super-fast planes, which he later discovers have been used to drop napalm on Vietnamese villages.

No particular point or message seems to be made by this novel; rather, it is a slow-burning examination of the themes of war, conflict and dominance told through watching the Caspar family through a few weeks of their lives. I enjoyed it very much.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The story of "The Great Perhaps" is divided very evenly between no fewer than five lead characters, as aptly described in Amazon's Product Description- absent-minded Jonathan, his wife Madeline who starts chasing a 'cloud man', his eldest daughter Amelia who is constructing a pipe bomb, his youngest daughter Thisbe who keeps praying to God to strike her down for all the bad thoughts she's having, and his father Henry who keeps trying to escape from his nursing home.

Each of these five characters is fully formed, believable, and could have merited a novel in their own right. The trial separation of Jonathan and Madeline is a modern romance novel (of sorts); Amelia's teenage Marxism is a sharp biting comedy novel; Thisbe's struggle with under-informed religious confusion is a philosophical tale about modern religion and misconceptions; and Henry's story is a very moving account of a dying man reminiscing about his life as a German refugee in the USA during the Second World War.

Joe Meno juggles all these characters neatly, cleverly, in a way that keeps you engaged throughout, always wanting to know what happens next in these five interweaving stories.

Thrown into the mix are other elements such as the background story of the run-in of the 2004 Presidential Election (John Kerry vs re-electing Bush) and how it causes further divides in the family. Then, almost as asides, the reader is flung back into the 19th and 16th centuries to meet Jonathan's tragic ancestors in little interlude chapters called "Comments Of Limited Historical Importance". Whilst not being related to the main story they are neat little throwaway sections that consider how problems can change and echo through time.

A captivating, character-led novel that succeeds as both comedy and tragedy. An excellent read and I'll be looking out for Joe Meno's next work.
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VINE VOICEon 27 August 2010
The novel follows the story of an averagely dysfunctional family - Jonathan, the father, who has seizures if he sees a cloud, and has devoted his life to studying (with the hope of finding) the giant prehistoric squid. Madeline, his wife, who studies pidgeon behaviour, is frustrated by Jonathan and his lack of interest in their family, and yet who seems to run off and abandon them on quite a regular basis. Amelia, the eldest daughter, is a teenage revolutionary, and Thisbe, their youngest, who has become a devout christian, and is going through the process of discovering her own identity and sexuality. Also featured is Jonathan's Father, now in a rest home, and slowly going through the process of making himself dissapear, whilst periodically trying to escape.

There were some aspects to the novel I found a little offputting - Madeline's sections in particular. I found her the hardest character to sympathise with, and I was a little confused as to why all the passages relating to her story had to be prefaced with a letter of the alphabet. I wondered if this was supposed to reveal something about her character, but if it was I missed it, and in the end it felt like a bit of an affectation which took my focus away from the rest of the story.

Jonathan was an endearing geek of a character. Having spent a lot of my time amongst academics and researchers I could easily sympathise with how he defined his life by his work, and how frustrated the other characters were with his lack of comprehension of the 'real world' around him. I did wonder what the relevance of the 'cloud epilepsy' was in the scheme of things. Clouds seem to pop up regularly in each character's story, and again perhaps I have missed the point. But if nothing else, it was a good hook to catch my interest in the novel.

My favourite characters by far however, were Amelia and Thisbe. Meno captures the angst and confusion of growing up beautifully. Both of these characters seem to go on the biggest, and most definable journey throughout the story, and although it was Jonathan and his cloud epilepsy that hooked me in to this book, it was Amelia and Thisbe that kept me reading.
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VINE VOICEon 26 August 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a novel which sounds like almost every family in existence. None of the characters really seems to know what they're doing with their lives and they all spend their time just muddling through. Joe Meno adds some quirky characteristics to his cast list so, for example, the elder daughter spends her time making pipe bombs and dreaming of revolution while the father has a fit whenever he sees a cloud, but these are a distraction and don't really change what happens. Everything significant that happens in the book could have happened without those quirks. Take away those characteristics and this is a fairly standard novel about a fairly normal family, not a particularly bad example of such a novel but nonetheless a novel with no great themes to explore.

It's difficult to think of who I would recommend this to. Ignore the oddball characteristics and it's a fairly pedestrian novel about a family with their own crises be it, coming of age, mid life crisis or even the end of ones life which is a good basis for a gentle slow novel about real people but then the quirks and oddities, both of the characters and the book itself - did Joe Meno really need to add five random pen drawings and occasional chapters with paragraphs labelled alphabetically?, and those actually get in the way of that gentle novel. Focus on the quirks and beneath that odd veneer there's something which doesn't live up to what they might lead you to expect. Perhaps that's what Joe Meno was aiming at; a novel in which both the novel and characters do not live up to their outwardly odd appearance?

Overall, interesting but probably not one I'll recommend to many people
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a tale of a dysfunctional American family - an academic couple and their two daughters, they are four very different characters...

Let's meet the Casper family: Father - Jonathan, who has epilepsy provoked by seeing clouds, and is searching for the giant squid; Mother - Madeline keeps the family together and researches violence among pigeon flocks; older daughter Amelia - a teenaged rebel who edits the school paper and wants to make a bomb; and finally fourteen year old Thisbe who spends much time praying and talking to God, and lastly Jonathan's father, Henry, who is fading away in an care home.

The Caspers are having a hard time living with each other. Jonathan is consumed with his studies at the University of Chicago, and forgets to take his epilepsy medication. Madeline suffers in silence, but is seething inside. Meanwhile, Amelia writes one too many inflammatory articles in the school paper and gets suspended, and Thisbe prays for everyone. Henry has decided to utter one less word per day in his personal prison. This family is in severe danger of falling apart.

The chapters alternate between the characters voices, and they are quite distinct, especially Madeline, who thinks in extended bullet points, lettered from A to Z. Jonathan is rather laissez-faire about everything except his envy of his French rival in the squid hunt. Amelia is just bolshy and an irritant, whereas Thisbe is lovely and caring and wishes she could sing. Madeline, in direct contrast to Jonathan's weird allergy, also finds herself obsessed by a man-shaped cloud which seems to always be there. The Caspers are all scared of talking to each other, so much so that things will come to a head and I did find myself wanting to read on and find out whether they made it to the end of the book as a family unit. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan and Thisbe, finding Madeline too uptight and confused, and Amelia just needed bringing back into the real world from her revolutionary imagined one.

If you enjoy reading campus novels, and can put up with a dysfunctional family with a high quirk quotient, this tragicomedy may be your thing. I enjoyed it a lot.
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Joe Meno is already an established novelist and playwright in the states. This novel will be his first UK release.

The Great Perhaps follows an American family called the Casper's. The Casper's are a modern family made up of complex characters, a family that's falling apart and in chaos. The story is set in the run up to the 2004 presidential election.

Jonathan Casper, a professor at the University of Chicago, is totally wrapped up in his own world. He has spent years searching for an elusive squid, which is all he really cares about. His wife, Madeline, is an animal behaviourist and currently researching the behaviour of pigeons. She is fed up of feeling a failure and wants Jonathan to shoulder some of the family responsibility instead of losing grip.

Then we have two confused teenage daughters. Amelia is angry and hates herself and everyone else. Her sister Thisbe is searching for God. I would like to add, though, that Thisbe's sporadic prayers through out the book are hilarious!

We also meet the girls' grandfather, Henry. Henry hasn't got long left in this world and drifts from past to present. His war time experiences add a deeper side to the story.

This novel is different and I enjoyed it. It's funny and sad and quite often both together. Don't try and understand this frustrating family, just go with the flow. The health problems and obsessions in this family are not run of the mill. The chapter's alternately follow a different family member, and are laid out slightly unusual at times. It is an easy and quick read, but admit some of it did go over my head.

I didn't know what to expect when I started reading The Great Perhaps. I had only just heard about the novel when I got an unexpected chance to read it. I stopped myself reading reviews and being swayed by them. If you like something a little different and unpredictable, give it a go.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 April 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved this book. It's a light read and I found myself devouring it. But if you are looking for plot, then it's as illusive as the giant squid that Jonathan, the father of the dysfunctional Casper family, devotes his academic life searching for. The family is at the heart of this novel and all of them are wrapped up in their own weird little worlds. It's a book that's heavy on metaphor (particularly clouds - which stand for complexity and dreams - and moths - which usually represent death). They are none too subtle, but didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Set in Chicago around the 2004 Presidential election, Jonathan lectures in the university and spends his time searching for the existence of the giant squid. He suffers a strange form of epilepsy that makes him fit at the sight of clouds unless he has taken his medication. Which he often hasn't. His wife Madeleine is also an academic, researching the apparently brutal behaviour of pigeons - at least she is until she gets distracted by a mysterious cloud figure in the sky that she feels driven to chase after all over Chicago. It's not surprising that they are suffering marital problems - particularly as Jonathan has pretty much neglected any of the family duties and is pretty hopeless at them when he is forced into them.

Then there are the two girls. 17 year old Amelia is a wonderful creation - a budding revolutionary, believing herself to be a Marxist, and railing against anything that smacks of capitalism. Younger sister Thisbe has mysteriously turned to religion for the answers and spends her time regretting her lack of singing voice and trying to convert the neighbourhood pets to Christianity, even though she's only ever been to church twice and both for funerals.

And then there's Jonathan's father, Henry, who is trapped in a nursing home with only his memories - particularly of war. Clearly dying he resolves to write snippets of his life in letters to himself while reducing the number of words he speaks by one a day until his death - all the while plotting his escape from the home.

The book focusses on each character with each chapter - as well as revealing some of the fates of Casper males throughout history. I loved it. It's about dreams, the human drive to war, complexity, modern life and neglecting what you've got while chasing less relevant things. The publisher's blurb likens it to The Corrections (with a quote from Irving Welsh) but I found The Corrections to be far more worthy than this is with plenty of dark humour. I was more reminded of the film American Beauty [DVD] [2000] while reading it.
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VINE VOICEon 16 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Bit of a tricky one to review this. I did enjoy it, as the four stars suggest, but it was a sometimes frustrating read.

The author, Jay Meno, is obviously a very talented writer who likes to play with words, structures and narrative themes. He does so here with relish and, for the most part pulls it off. Every now and then the book does descend somewhat into wackiness for wackiness sake which can be immensley off putting. Thankfully it does not happen too often and the novel remains a genuinely quirky and interesting read.

It is not a new trick to have different chapters of books told from different characters perspectives, which Meno does here, but it only works if all the charcters are interesting. Thankfully this is the case here. As other reviewers have noted, the Grandfathers segments in particular are a joy to read. Personally I got a litte bit tired of Thisbe as a character as the novel progressed but she still brought plenty to the overall story.

I found myself being somewhat reminded of films like 'Little Miss Sunshine' & 'Squid & The Whale' (not because of the Squid part I may add!) in that this book tackles the dynamics of a dysfunctional American family with black humour and each character has some eccentricity that informs their story.

I think this is a good book all told, one that offers a number of unique ideas and characters that it is a pleasure to spend time with.
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VINE VOICEon 5 September 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have not read any of Joe Meno's other work but I am certainly tempted too after reading this book.

The book is cleverly woven from the perspectives of five members of the Casper family, spanning three generations but with some smaller scenes from Casper ancestors going back in time.... I found all the characters, but especially those of the 2 children, to be engaging and well drawn - their coming of age stories are told in a witty and perceptive way and there were many laugh out loud moments. The story of the parents is actually the quirkiest part of the book (after all doesn't every teenager fantasise about doing something outrageous?) where the willingness to suspend your disbelief becomes a little stretched. However, underneath the characters cloud/squid fixations Joe Meno tells a very common story of two people who have known each other a long time, falling out of, and back into, love. Their characters are going through a time in their lives and relationship where they feel like they are unloved and in a dead end but they are getting too old to change and so they decided to make the best of it - & who can't relate to that? The portrayal of the Grandfather is also very touching. All in all I would highly recommend this read - I have recommended it for my book club next month and am greatly looking forward to discussing it as I am sure the quirky stories will invoke a range of opinions!!
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