The Great Perhaps Hardcover – 2 Apr 2010
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'If the first 100 pages are anything to go by, it's going to be a winner. Sharp and fluent, the prose is really a delight.' --The Bookseller
'The Great Perhaps is no ordinary comic novel. Meno transcends the genre by taking us back to the grandfather's harsh beginnings, and to the lives of previous generations of Caspers. His ability to connect these disparate strands into one story sets him above the average contemporary writer, and his sudden flights of fancy are irresistible.'
'Laugh-out-loud funny but frequently sad, Joe Meno's new novel runs the gamut of emotions and techniques as it depicts a Chicago family in turmoil... They achieve no earth-shattering insights, and neither does the author; he simply reminds us with wit and compassion that the human condition is "both astonishing and quite ordinary."' --Chicago Tribune
'Meno's distinctively imaginative and compassionate fiction is forged at the intersection of ordinariness and astonishment... 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.' --Booklist
'Meno's handle on the written word is fresh and inviting, conjuring a story that delves deeply into the human heart.' --Publisher's Weekly
`The Great Perhaps focuses on the American family, devoting consecutive comic chapters to each member as they struggle to understand the world.'
`the incredibly funny story of 48-year-old American Jonathan Casper and his wife and teenage daughters as they cope, each in their own strange way, with marital separation and Jonathan's eccentric, ailing father. . . this highly original and surprisingly poignant novel.'
`[it] combines narrative steel, human conviction and a thoughtful examination of the contemporary family. Meno's compassion and understanding is broad, yet intimate . . . With a keen sense of phrasing, and a perfect ear for dialogue - especially teenage speech - Meno has created a refreshingly readable, subtle and intelligent novel. It more than steps out of the shadow cast by The Corrections.' --Independent
`This is a funny, touching novel, but there is wisdom amid the absurdity, as Meno exposes the pitfalls of our soundbite culture and shows the impossibility of finding simple answers in a frightening, war-torn world.' --Waterstone's Books Quarterly
`This is a shrewd and original look at the American nuclear family . . . This is the first time that American author Joe Meno has been published here and we're all the richer for it . . . This is perfect book club fodder or for anyone that wants an imaginative distraction from their daily commute.'
'The wisest, most humane and transcendent novel on the contemporary family since The Corrections' Irvine WelshSee all Product description
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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.
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.