Family in crisis! Will quirkiness pull them through?

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

My first encounter with US novelist Joe Meno, The Great Perhaps 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. (7.5/10) I was given this book.

This post was republished into its original place in my blog’s timeline from my lost posts archive

Source: Own copy.

Joe Meno, The Great Perhaps (Picador, 2010) paperback, 416 pages.

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