(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)
Regular readers know that I am a longtime fan of Chicago contemporary lit legend Joe Meno, one of only a handful of local authors here right now to have broken through into national-scale reputation, media attention and resulting sales; and there have been projects of his in the past that I've really loved, and ones I found only so-so, and ones I thought…er, not so so-so, so I'm never exactly sure what I'm going to get when I dive into a new one. But this latest, from our friends at the great Akashic Books and being released just this week, is a different thing altogether from anything else in this shapeshifter's career -- deliberately small and intimate, and easy to dismiss at first as the meaningless musings of hipster douchebags, by the end it manages to be rather wistful, heartbreaking and melancholy, a sneakily tight manuscript that gets better and better the farther you read. Essentially the full beginning-to-end tale of one of those torrid three-week romantic relationships that litter so many of our pasts, and set among good-looking twentysomething art-school dropouts because, hey, why not, Meno's point here is to look at one of these people who sometimes just randomly blows into our lives for a bit, changes it profoundly, then just as randomly leaves again for the entire rest of your life; and by following it in its full messy glory, Meno's bigger point is to remind us of why these experiences are so important, why we remember them so nostalgically and positively for nearly the rest of our lives. Set during the Great Chicago Blizzard of 1999, the entire book has a muted and closed-in tone that serves its Before Sunrise feel well; and although Meno occasionally leans on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes a bit too much (she has doe eyes and a thrift-store coat! She bicycles in the snow! She does impromptu absurdist performance art on the el!), by humanizing her in a sophisticated and complex way he largely avoids the biggest sins of that cliche, making this a quickly paced charmer that I suspect will eventually be one of the most popular titles of his career. A novel just begging to get adapted into the quirky movie debut of the next big national indie-film darling, it comes strongly recommended to existing fans of Garden State and (500) Days of Summer; and don't forget that I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Meno here in Chicago for nearly an hour almost exclusively just about this book for the CCLaP Podcast, so I hope you'll get a chance to check that out as well when it's available next week.
Out of 10: 9.4