The Great Perhaps
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The Great Perhaps

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  1,208 ratings  ·  180 reviews
The sky is falling for the Caspers, a family of cowards. When the parents decide to separate, this family is forced to appreciate the cloudiness of this modern age.
Paperback, 0 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Picador (first published 2009)
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Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

So before anything else, let's acknowledge that I have a complicated relationship with the work of Chicago wunderkind Joe Meno; I rather disliked his literary debut, for example, the popular punk-rock coming-of-age tale Hairstyles of the Damned (prompting not exactly hateful letters from his passiona...more
Hannah  Messler
Bef0re: I am quickly and immediately in love with this book. Oriana, you're next!

After: This is the best 0ne by this guy that I have read. I l0ve his f0ndness f0r the w0rd "small," I l0ve the way his characters seem like dearly-bel0ved d0lls in a careful, h0peful d0llh0use, I l0ve the little letters Henry writes t0 himself S0 much (I l0ved these t00 much, in fact--they are the 0nly pr0blem I had with the b00k--I wanted m0re with the little letters . . . ). G00d w0rk, J0e Men0! What a kind and sa...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Krok Zero
Joe Meno is a fixture on the Chicago literary scene and carries a certain hipster cachet. This is my third go-round with him; I barely remember the other two books, except for thinking the hype wasn't justified. Now he's attempted to do an expansive, resonant Family Novel, and boy howdy, that mode of writing does not suit him.

Meno wants to write The Royal Tenenbaums, but this book has exactly none of the humor, style, insight, or pathos that made that film indelible. Instead, it has a lot of whi...more
Yeah! I like Joe Meno a lot and I think it's nice that here he's taking a swing at the great American Novel. And- this is awesome- I sent an e-mail to his publisher as soon as I found out this was coming out, like Hey can my store have an advance reader copy please? And they were like, Well, there's no bound ARCs, but would you like this 300-pages-of-printer-paper manuscript I've got? So I got to read this thing in a big sheaf of 8 1/2 x 11s. I felt very, very cool.

And the book itself, for abou...more
"The Great Perhaps" is a novel that revolves, by chapter, around each member of the Casper family - Jonathan, the science professsor obsessed with the search for a giant squid, his wife, Madeline, whose confusion amidst her mid-life crisis rings through in every scene, Jonathan's father, Henry, and their two children, Thisbe and Amelia.

Jonathan is a professor whos rivalry with the French science team in the search for the great ellusive squid drives him to obsession. He was the most likeable, o...more
This is one of those books that I picked up from the library on a whim merely because I've gotten to that desperate, "I haven't read a good book in a while" kind of a place and I'm just sort of grasping at straws. For better or worse, "The Great Perhaps" definitely filled that void but it did little more.

It's the story of a somewhat dysfunctional (but mostly normal) family in Chicago - two parents, both of whom are scientists and two daughters who are, of course, polar opposites yet dealing wit...more
I imagine those people who don't like this book, or maybe don't like Joe Meno, aren't fans of Wes Anderson either. I suppose that isn't exactly fair to Meno. He doesn't dance around in a quirky but very real alternate reality. His characters are kind of quirky, one is afraid of clouds; one is trying to erase himself by speaking one fewer word a day. But he doesn't use his quirky characters for a mad-cap, laugh-a-minute riot. His quirks instead somehow heighten the flaws and the sadness in them....more
Becky Everhart
Reading this book was a way for me to see that so many of the braveries of my life could so easily be seen as cowardices. Still, this revelation came in a warm light with the knowledge that there is still time to change without becoming too much of a different person than what I have built upon for so long. The lessons and realizations of this book came so gently.

As for the book itself, I enjoyed it greatly, obviously. It was well-written. The characters were very much in the round and adaptive....more
I love Joe Meno, and honestly think he is one of the best in fiction right now, but this book was awful. It feels instantly dated, but worse, it's derivative. It reads like bad a Wes Anderson movie (aren't they all though?).
Let me preface this review by saying I'm a huge fan of Joe Meno and I think it's admirable that one author can write so many different kinds of books, but this one just wasn't the cheese or the bees knees for me.

Of course there were parts of the story that I enjoyed immensely and they primarily reside in the characterizations of Thisbe, Amilea and Henry (Thisbe and Amilea's Grandfather). I also enjoyed the story line of a family in crisis and how it affected everyone in his or her own way. Those...more
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...more
I picked up The Great Perhaps purely because it was the next book on my reading list to come up at the local library, but truth be told, I was glad to read some Joe Meno. As current authors go, he’s among my top choices not only for a quirky style but because he’s so honest in his writing.
Even just reading the jacket information, I sort of knew what I was going to get out of this book. Meno does not exactly diverge wildly from his style in any of his writing, but I’m okay with that. People are...more
I started this book at 9 AM this morning. This means I read it in 8.5 hours, with occasional breaks to eat and do my job. This is not because it is an "easy read"--it is not light on pages or content. It's because this is just an amazing book. It's amazing in lots of ways, and probably different ways for every reader, but let me list my three favorites.

1) Experimental Style. This book is successfully experimental. It breaks with "normalcy" by writing in the present tense; by including illustrati...more
"Beneath all of her thoughts and worries, beneath the complication of conflicting identities and needs, maybe it's as simple as loving the way some other person looks when they're sleeping."

Would give it 4 and 1/2 if it existed; not quite a 5 because I'm not sure even Meno can live up to the brilliant high school angst and heartbreak that is one of my favorites: Hairstyles of the Damned!

Jonathan has a unique problem: he faints whenever he sees a cloud, or something in the shape of a cloud, or ev...more
This was my first Joe Meno. He's always been on my list of "Authors I'm sure I'll like, but haven't gotten around to reading yet". The chapters alternate points of view of one family--grandfather, father, mother, and two daughters. Old man flashbacks are included. When I realized what he was doing with the alternating I assumed it would be frustrating because I didn't think there was anyway to do it thoroughly. Plus I was on loads of percocet, so I worried about following everything. Somehow he...more
Kasa Cotugno
3 1/2 stars, not quite a 4.

Oddly enough, this book reminded me very much of the movie "The Squid and the Whale" a few years back, so I actually envisioned Jeff Daniels playing the lead character. That movie's title engendered quite a bit of comment since there was neither a squid nor a whale, and it was unclear just who was what. There are squid aplenty and a few whales in this tale of a family suffering a collective meltdown. I found the structure was quite inflexible, alternating chapters fea...more
I've never had such mixed feelings about a book before. There are aspects of it I really, really enjoyed--really all of the content surrounding directly the main characters. Had the book consisted only of these aspects, I believe I'd have given this at least another star. But then there are side stories -- some of which, I didn't care enough about to bother trying to figure out how they might tie into the book; and while grandpa played a role in the story, much of that was unnecessary. And I hav...more
Like Hank Williams, Joe Meno knows that there is no greater adventure than gripping books. Since Meno literally created The Great Perhaps, numerous fans have witnessed the book's process of reinventing itself. More naive fans and freewheeling spirits are trying to design the sculpted Joe Meno, the progenitor of numerous masterworks. Photographs capture Meno trying on pioneer outfits.

In The Great Perhaps, a professor is the author of numerous articles. A hillbilly captures the very bedrock of po...more
This is a review where I wish I had 3.5 stars as an option. This is not my favorite by Joe Meno by a long-shot, but it's worth a read. Probably the most memorable character and greatest singularity that sets this book apart is its attention to German Americans during World War II with a brush into the plight of Japanese Americans. The grandfather who sees his youth in flashbacks as he is losing his memory, or preparing for death, or just getting old, gives a depth to his character that does not...more
I liked it, but then I couldn't figure out why I kept not liking it and then going back to reading it and changing my mind about it every chapter or so. So I read other reviews on GR and found one that says it all: the review by Jason Pettus, here on Goodreads and at

However, his review is really long, so here's the gist of why I didn't like The Great Perhaps as much as I would have. Unlike Pettus, I generally like magical realism. But I have to agree, Men...more
Joe Meno uses satire, funky formatting, and even a touch of magical realism to tell his story, and *still* manages to create astonishingly real characters. This is a story about the paralyzing power of anxiety and about the transcendent force of familial love. It’s about craving simple, easy answers, but ultimately finding beauty in complicated truths. Meno’s fictional Casper family teaches us that “what if?” doesn’t have to be asked with trepidation and dread. It can be asked with hope and wond...more
I picked this up because I loved "The Boy Detective Fails," by the same author. This was also whimsical, but there was a lot more angst and it was anchored much more firmly in reality. Each chapter focuses on the (embarrassing and sad) life of a member of a family that's falling apart. I liked the way the characters' stories were interwoven, like knowing what is going on with someone else when the narrative focus is on someone who is not paying anyone else any attention, but for all of the stori...more
This was a little disappointing. I really like his previous short story collection, and the novel before that, the Boy Detective Fails. This book had moments of brilliance to be sure, but overall, it's generally mediocre. The novel is at its best when Meno takes his time with what he's writing, but the scope of the book is so big that it seems he couldn't do so often enough.
Danielle Mohlman
The Great Perhaps was stunning and heartbreaking and beautiful and all the right things. I love a novel that can make you feel pain, one that can make you feel like you aren’t living as precisely as you should be because you’re not intensely aware of every little thing you’re feeling.

I realized after I finished reading this that Meno had made me feel these things once before — right in the middle of one of the first plays I ever saw in DC. The Boy Detective Fails cut me down and gave me hope ov...more
John Van
Good book, but I could hear Meno whispering to himself, "This is so fucking brilliant, look at me, clever me." Could've cut most of Henry's chapters down. His past became the focus even though the story was his present.
I did not expect to enjoy this book. Abandoned on the first attempt after applying my mantra that life is too short to read books I am not enjoying. Reading it again happened by accident (elaborate self-effacing explanation involving different covers for hard and soft copies which I shall not go into). It is more than just a good novel about nuclear families in modern America - I also really enjoyed the historical touches (including stories of family members dating back to the 19th century, and...more
Yet another contemporary/literary fiction book where the cover is really the best part. Stop, just enjoy the cover - it's interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and even has a nice texture. You will find none of those things contained inside.

It feels like Meno REALLY did not want this book to be trite. He tried so very hard to make it interesting and fresh. He threw in all these little quirky details (and I'm a fan of quirky) like a character's chapter be in alphabetized format or clouds induce se...more
Dwight Okita
I just finished reading The Great Perhaps. I have only read his Boy Detective Fails which I liked very much. Perhaps is an intriguing quirky read. Meno's world is cool, trippy, and often touching. The author is rarely boring. Other the several new novels I've purchased, I was compelled to finish reading this one, as I am not with others.

The central family is falling apart in so many interesting ways. They are deeply flawed, though empathetic and recognizable. Probably my favorite character is Th...more

•Meno exibits his experimental story telling once more; the novel contains illustrations, transcripts from old radio serials, and declassified government documents.
•Realistic teenage dialogue and insight that he has more than perfected in his past novels (Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails)
•In my personal experience, the characters evoked an array of emotions. Just when I begin to think, “Wow, I’m glad I don’t know people like this,” another side of their humanity is revealed...more
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Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright that lives in Chicago. A winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award and the Society of Midland Author's Fiction Prize, he is the author of four novels, The Boy Detective Fails (Akashic 2006), Hairstyles of the Damned (Akashic 2004), Tender as Hellfire (St. Martin's 1999), and How the Hula Girl Sings (HarperCollins 2001). His short story collection is Blu...more
More about Joe Meno...
Hairstyles of the Damned The Boy Detective Fails Office Girl How the Hula Girl Sings Demons in the Spring

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“Beneath all of her thoughts and worries, beneath the complication of conflicting identities and needs, maybe it's as simple as loving the way some other person looks when they're sleeping.” 25 likes
“When she cries, it is quiet, tearless, almost completely imperceptible: one more unheard prayer.” 9 likes
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