The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

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The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: October 2004 is a challenging month in the lives of five members of the Casper family, as they contemplate science, homicidal pigeons, the overthrow of capitalism, religion, the presidential election contest between John Kerry and George W Bush and a few other things besides.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330512473

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Jonathan Casper faints when he sees clouds. His wife Madeline worries about everything, not least the way the pigeons that she is studying are murdering each other. Their seventeen year old daughter Amelia wants to overthrow the evil empire of capitalism and is making her own bomb, while fourteen year old Thisbe is looking for God and praying to him. Jonathan's father, seventy six year old Henry, is planning his disappearance. Jonathan and Madeline may be on the verge of splitting up, to the dismay of both daughters.

The Great Perhaps is about a middle class Chicago family having a crisis, just before the Presidential election of 2004. The narrative shifts between the five main characters.

This novel reminded me of another chronicler of American family life, Anne Tyler. It's not action packed, the story is about the thoughts and reactions of the characters and low key conflict between them as they struggle to understand and communicate with each other. At first I thought it was a novel in which not much happens, but actually, there is quite a lot going on. Each family member will face a turning point which challenges their views of themselves, other family members and other people in their lives. I was surprised by how compelling I found it and how quickly I turned the pages.

Characterisation is a strength of The Great Perhaps, but some characters are more convincingly portrayed than others. Madeline was perhaps the least well-drawn character, I felt I was hearing about her from outside. Henry's wish to escape from a nursing home and head for the airport so he can fly somewhere else turns out to relate to his traumatic experiences as a child member of a German immigrant community during World War II, when whole families deemed to be enemy aliens were interned and forcibly resettled in isolated communities in other parts of the country, such as Crystal City, Texas. I found this historical back story fascinating, and significant – Henry has never really talked about this properly to his son but has passed on his uncertainty and nervousness about life to him.

As for the teenage girls, I started off preferring would-be revolutionary Amelia to her conservative Christian younger sister, but began to find her a little tiresome after a while. She seems very naïve to me, about politics and about men, for an intelligent and educated urban seventeen year old. I began to warm to Thisbe despite her religious and political views, including her admiration for George W Bush.

Overall though, this is a good yet thought provoking read, and I definitely want to read more of Meno's work. Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Other dysfunctional family novels include Anne Enright's The Gathering and In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner. Another novel set in Chicago is Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. You might also appreciate Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido.

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Buy The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno at


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