The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno is a book that I picked up after reading Jackie’s review a couple weeks ago; her praise is high and I was really looking forward to reading it.  After finishing reading the book, I have to say that while I agree with everything Jackie said in her review, I am also of two minds about it.  On the one hand, I do think that it is an interesting portrayal of the American family.  I don’t think that the writing style was gimicky and in fact I really enjoyed it.  I think The Great Perhaps‘s biggest flaw is that it goes against its own philosophy that there is beauty in the ordinary.

The Casper is a “family of cowards.”  Jonathan is a scientist who has been searching for the elusive giant squid for years with little success, but he also has a strange form of epilepsy that causes him to have a seizure whenever he sees a cloud or a cloud-shaped object.  I found this to be very flawed, because at one point Jonathan goes into a seizure at the sight of a white car.  What about pillows?  What about potato chip bags?  What about rice?  I mean, there are just hundreds of things that you see every single day that are shaped like a cloud.  Why did some of them make him have a seizure and others did not?

Madeleine, his wife, is also a scientist, but she is studying the behavior patterns of pigeons.  When she realizes that Jonathan doesn’t have any room for her in his life, she leaves him and her family for a while.  I really didn’t like Madeleine or enjoy her parts of the novel.  I did not understand the  “cloud man” she follows or what that could possibly mean.  I did not understand her intentions or motivations.  I just did not like her.  I liked Madeleine through the eyes of her husband much more, because he seems to be in love with a totally different woman.

Amelia, their oldest daughter, is an angry, communist teenager who is building a bomb for her history project.  I also disliked her, but I really loved the way her character grew and changed over the course of the novel.  Her story ended up being one of my favorites because when her shell finally begins to crack and she realizes what she has done, it is an amazing moment.  I loved her interactions with her classmate towards the end.

Thisbe is Jonathan and Madeleine’s youngest daughter and her storyline was by far my favorite.  I loved every single minute of it and I wish Thisbe could have had her own book.  Thisbe, raised by two atheists, has found religion.  She prays all the time, she goes to church to light candles and she is always concerned with how God will feel about the things she does.  When she starts to have feelings for other girls, Thisbe’s relationship with God becomes very interesting.  Joe Meno really won me over with Thisbe.  There is nothing more realistic in this novel than Thisbe’s prayers – I feel like they are exactly how a 14-year-old would pray:

Dear Heavenly Father, Thisbe says silently, closing her eyes, let the world be as nice tome today as this cat.  Please do not let anyone utter a harsh word or give me a dirty look  for being a spaz.  Please do not let me drop anything while I am walking in the hallway.  Please do not let certain people pretend that I do not e xist.  And please do not let anyone I love die anytime soon, at least until I am in my thirties.  Through Christ, our Lord, amen. (401)

Isn’t that just perfect?

Finally there is Henry, who has the second best story out of the entire family.  He was a teenager during WWII and also a first generation German immigrant.  His father is taken in by the FBI, though we’re never certain if he is guilty or not, and the entire family is put in an internment camp.  After a while, the family is given an option of leaving the internment camp to return to Germany and everyone accepts except Henry.  He becomes obsessed with trying to find the Japanese twin girls he sees die in a fire at the internment camp.  We meet Henry when he is at a nursing home.  Every day he decides to use less words until there is nothing left to say.  I really loved Henry’s part of the book, except for the radio shows, but I wish it had been shorter.  There were some things I found unnecessary to the story.

Ultimately, I loved the beginning of this book, adored the ending, and despised the middle.  I thought about giving it up, but I’m truly glad I did not.  I think that this book celebrates ordinary life and all of the oddities within it, and I wish Meno had kept it at that.  The inclusion of some very strange events and details really threw this book for me, otherwise it would have been one of my favorites for the year.  I think a lot of people will adore this book, like Jackie did, and a lot of people will be frustrated with it.  Still more will be somewhere in between, like I am.  There are absolutely things to love about this book, so I can recommend it.

So go read this!:  now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Farm Lane Books, Largehearted boy.

Book  provided by: the library.
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5 thoughts on “The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

  1. LOL! I didn’t really think enough about Jonathan’s condition. You are right – why didn’t he have a seizure when he saw a pillow! I guess that you just have to try not to think about those things too much and enjoy it for what it was.

    I think this would be a perfect book group choice as I think people could talk about it for ages. I agree that it will divide people, but hopefully everyone will find a bit to love – who couldn’t fall in love with Henry’s character?

  2. Well, I will say that I’m glad to see this one got equally good cover art in both the UK and North America! 😉

    I haven’t read this one, but Jackie’s review as well as yours have really intrigued me. I am heading to the library this weekend and will probably seek it out.

    Oh, and while I can’t explain the cloud-seizure thing definitively maybe it just happens to be based on whether Jonathan perceived something as being cloud-like (rather than whether it objectively was like a cloud)? It’s the only thing I can think of, but then again, maybe this was just a case of the author loving an idea without having fully worked out the kinks.

  3. I added this to my list after seeing Jackie’s review too. When I do read it, I’ll try to remember that it might be a bit of a slog in the middle and will pay off in the end. The storylines just sound so interesting!

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