Maren's Reviews > The Great Perhaps

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno
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Aug 17, 09

Read in August, 2009

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 with somewhat similar challenges. The book spends each chapter on a separate character's point of view (including forays into the childhood and current, debilitating state of the father's father and a couple of the family's ancestors).

I want to be able to write much more about the novel than what I already have but for some reason, it's difficult to say much about it. There's a neat-ness to the novel that's pleasant but also easily forgettable, as the author tries to represent this theme of ordinary yet astonishing. It's true that the characters' problems ARE fairly ordinary - the father is a forgetful academic, the mother is thwarted at her work, the youngest daughter struggles to find a spiritual core and the oldest daughter is a burgeoning anarchist. What the separate chapters and separate focuses serves to demonstrate is that they're a family entirely uninterested in each other; the few moments where they show any interest in each other are usually disappointments on one or both sides. Since each chapter jumps so much, it's hard to get interested in any one character (though I liked the youngest daughter's storyline the best, since it's the most original) and the author sometimes relies too much on easy sentimentality.

Ultimately, it killed the time I needed it to kill but I forced my way through the last several pages because I was interested more in finishing the book in order to break my curse of not being able to finish a book these days and not because I was actually interested in any of the characters. Ultimately, it was too 2 dimensional a portrayal of reality and what few chances he takes with more postmodern modes of storytelling felt undeserved.
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