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The Great Perhaps

3.59  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,426 Ratings  ·  189 Reviews
The Caspers are a family beset by cowardice and anxiety. Set in the run-up to the 2004 US presidential election, 'The Great Perhaps' is a tale of the nuclear family in the nuclear age; a witty and revealing story about just how complicated and ambiguous modern life can be.
Paperback, 414 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
Hannah  Messler
May 29, 2014 Hannah Messler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Krok Zero
Oct 20, 2009 Krok Zero rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fall-2009
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 27, 2008 Imogen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 17, 2009 Maren rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 12, 2011 Becky Everhart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 20, 2011 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: signed-by-author
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
Jun 11, 2009 Pam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 08, 2010 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 19, 2012 Lily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Greg Zimmerman
Sep 02, 2015 Greg Zimmerman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tolstoy was right — no unhappy family has ever been unhappy in the ways the Caspers are. This Chicago family of four (plus Grandpa Henry), the stars of Joe Meno's insightful, but melancholic novel The Great Perhaps, has a world of problems. And the only way to solve them will be to face them head on. It makes for a fascinating, fun-to-read (in kind of a "thank God that's not my family" way) story, and it's told with timeliness and urgency. I loved it!

Father Jonathan, a scientist and professor at
Nov 25, 2009 Venessa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Oct 05, 2009 Allie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 19, 2009 Kasa Cotugno rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 23, 2010 Allen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 28, 2011 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Richard Goodwin
Aug 10, 2015 Richard Goodwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the use of a single object,in this book a cloud, that can have so much meaning and be viewed differently by five people very fascinating. Meno did very well writing about the life of whole family. Each chapter felt like I was truly looking thru the characters eyes. The last 100 pages had me guessing on how it would end. I enjoyed this look into a rough patch that this family was going thru..
Steve Donoghue
Jan 03, 2015 Steve Donoghue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: older-books
My review (originally published in Open Letters Monthly) of this utterly charming novel:

When Henry Casper, the patriarch of the odd, idiosyncratic family that populate Joe Meno’s fantastic and heartfelt new novel The Great Perhaps (even fantastic and heartfelt novels can have wretched titles – cf. A Modern Instance, All the King’s Men, Earthly Powers, etc.), is thirteen, in 1942, the FBI sends him and his parents and brother to an internment camp for the duration of the war. Upon their arrival,
Mar 09, 2014 Mary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 26, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 10, 2014 Rage rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 22, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't really have words for this one, as it was simply the type of book that "clicks" and then deeply resonates inside you, vibrating those inner heart and soul strings that tether us all together in the first place.

It's a bizarre sort of novel, though, and perfect for my kind of fantastic, as the events don't always make sense and are often magical in nature. For me, I love that stuff. For others, I can see how it might pose an issue.

I'll admit, too, that I wasn't sold on the novel at first,
Sep 29, 2013 Jared rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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?).
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.
Feb 06, 2014 Bronwyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 31, 2016 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I received this book as a gift from a friend and completely forgotten about it. This book kept falling into the "To Read Pile" yet was never read until now. I wish I read this book sooner. The Great Perhaps is an adorable and hilarious train wreck.

It's also really cool reading a fictional story that takes place in the same city you live and laughing because the commentary about those specific places are exactly as Meno pointed them out to be.

Meno pokes holes in concepts such as the nuclear fami
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Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Chicago. A winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, the Great Lakes Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Society of Midland Author's Fiction Prize, and a finalist for the Story Prize, he is the author of seven novels and two short story collections. He is also the editor of Chicago Noir: The Classics. A long-time contributor to the seminal c ...more
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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.” 26 likes
“When she cries, it is quiet, tearless, almost completely imperceptible: one more unheard prayer.” 9 likes
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