The Great Perhaps – Joe Meno

The BookDepository

The Great Perhaps has one of the best first lines I’ve read:

Anything resembling a cloud will cause Jonathan Casper to faint.

The premise of this book is fantastically original. The central character, Jonathan, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy which causes him to have a seizure if he sees a cloud. To avoid clouds Jonathan becomes a palaeontologist, searching for prehistoric squid in the depths of the ocean.

Jonathan’s wife, Madeline, is studying the violence of pigeons; his daughter Amelia is making bombs in her bedroom and Thisbe, the youngest member of the family, is discovering Christianity. The book also follows their grandfather, Henry, who is dying and decides to utter one word less each day.

This book is a fantastic study of an American family. I was impressed by the way each person had their own unique voice, realistically capturing the thoughts and behaviour of their age group. The book is narrated by each character in turn, with a different writing style being used for each person. Some people may think the styles are gimmicky, especially Madeline’s which consists of 26 different thoughts each ordered by the letters of the alphabet, but I loved it! The continual change of pace and style kept me gripped and allowed there to be humor as well as deeper moments in which the complex relationships within a family could be observed.

The plot itself is quite simple, but I was desperate to know whether one of Amelia’s bombs would go off or if Jonathan would ever find his squid. It was easy to read, yet covered many important themes. 

I don’t think I’ve read a better book about an American family – I’d vote for it to win the Pulitzer prize this year.

Highly recommended.


Send to Kindle

40 Comments

  1. Susana Mai says:

    Yep, I’ve been really wanting to read this. Thanks for the suggestion!

    1. Jackie says:

      Susana, Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time! I hope you enjoy this book!

  2. FleurFisher says:

    I love the cover, I love the opening line and I love the concept. It’s going straight onto my wishlist!

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, I think you’ll love this book! I hope that you manage to find a copy – I admit I was drawn to that cover too!

  3. This one sounds my kinda book! So much so it’s already on my wishlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I’m pleased that you like the sound of it!

  4. Steph says:

    Ooh, this sounds so good! I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for this one, as it sounds quirky but substantive, and those are two things I adore in my literature. And so because of you, I’m adding another book to my TBR pile! :D

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, It is nice to find original books. I hope you manage to get hold of a copy and that this book becomes more well known in the blogging world.

  5. That first line sold it to me and also made me chuckle, sounds like this is a good read, might just look out for it in the library though am thinking of taking Savidge Reads on a departure from contemporary and very current fiction for a while… or maybe even longer, we will see.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, Good luck in your quest to read older books – I’m too tempted by shiny new books to be able to do that!

  6. Nicole says:

    I like the sounds of this. Talk about their literally being a reason for keeping your head out of the clouds. And I like thought of each character having a different writing style. As long as each is well done and they truly stay with their own voice, I don’t see what the problem is. It’s ort of natural.

    1. Jackie says:

      Nicole, It isn’t just that each character has its own voice – most are written in a very different way to each other. I think they have realistic voices, but the writing style my irritate some people.

  7. Jenny says:

    I love it when authors can really do a good job with multiple narrators. It’s hard! Barbara Kingsolver did an amazing job with this in The Poisonwood Bible. I’m adding this one to my list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I agree that it is so hard to do multiple narrators well – I normally prefer books with just one central character, but this book manages to do it – I hope you manage to find a copy.

  8. kimbofo says:

    Have you ever read The Corrections? That’s the best book about an American family that I have ever read.

    1. Jackie says:

      kimbofo, I haven’t read The Corrections, but I have a copy here – I’ll have to dig it out of the TBR pile and give it a try. Thanks for the recommendation!

  9. I’ve got to say, I coveted this book for it’s cover before I read a word of your review. Then I read the first line of the book…that’s when I was certain I had to own it. Now that I’ve read your review in it’s entirety, I absolutely must have this book! It’s not too often anymore that I buy a book based on a review (my shelves are just too clogged up for that!), but I am making a big ol’ exception this time….thanks!

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, It is great to hear that you are making an exception for this book. I hope that it lives up to your high expectations now.

  10. Dorte H says:

    Excellent bait, that quotation! The book sounds delicious.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dorte, I do love great first lines!

  11. Aarti says:

    This sounds lovely! I was lucky enough to meet Joe Meno in November. He’s a pretty popular Chicago author. And he was just really nice. He read from his newer short story collection, and there was a special edition of that book put out, with a gorgeous velvety cover and specially commissioned art with each story. He said that he isn’t against an e-reader, but if it’s here and we want books to survive, then we really need to bring back how SPECIAL books are, and make people want them. It really stuck with me. I’m glad to know his book lives up to him :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Aarti, I’m pleased to hear that the author is as lovely as the book! I would love a gorgeous velvety copy of this one too.

  12. Thanks for reminding me that I need to rescue this from the pile, where it’s been hanging out for almost a year!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, LOL! Sometimes the best books are already hiding in our stacks. It is great to hear that you already own a copy – I hope that you enjoy it!

  13. Sandy says:

    Wow! Now THAT is a unique family. Not what I would call typical, but interesting! I almost get chills when you rate a book this highly. I agree with Kimbofo, I loved The Corrections as well, but those people wouldn’t hold a candle to these folks I don’t think!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, No – not typical, but well worth reading about! Despite their weirdness I think they deal with many of the same issues as more normal families.

      I’ll have to ensure I make time to read The Corrections soon too.

  14. And, what a fantastic book cover! Sounds like a good one all around. You cinched it for me with the Grandfather.

    1. Jackie says:

      J.T. The grandfather is a wonderful character – I love the way he spends so long deciding which words are important enough to say each day. I think we could all learn something from him.

  15. Andi says:

    I haven’t heard/read a word about this book until your review, and I’m positive I have to have it. It sounds oddly wonderful and delightful and weird. A little like Little Miss Sunshine (the film) but darker. Or maybe The Royal Tennenbaums. Thanks for piquing my interest this morning!

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, I haven’t seen this book mentioned anywhere before. It is a shame as it deserves to be more well known. I hope you can help to spread the word! I haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine – I’ll have to see if I can get hold of a copy.

  16. I love a good dysfunctional American family novel! This is certainly unique, and like many of the commenters, I’m adding it to my wishlist. Squids, pigeons, bombs, and Christianity … that’s quite a combo!

    1. Jackie says:

      Dawn, It isn’t as odd as it sounds – it actually reads as being quite normal. I hope you enjoy it!

  17. Bina says:

    Hey, just found your blog via Iris (on Books). This book sounds like an amazing read, I haven´t seen it anywhere else yet!

    1. Jackie says:

      Bina, I’ve only just discovered Iris – I hope her blog leads me to many great new ones!

  18. Jeanne says:

    Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the best novel about an American family that I’ve ever read. I hadn’t heard of this one before reading your review, but now I think I’ll have to read it and compare.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, I haven’t heard of that one – I’ll have to look it up. Thanks for the recommendation!

  19. Jenners says:

    Another one for my ever-growing list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I hope you enjoy it!

  20. Lu says:

    Just read this one based on your rec and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Well there were parts that I adored and parts that I really didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like the part about the cloud man. I really didn’t understand it and I thought the seizures were a little gimmicky. My favorite parts were Thisbe and Henry. I loved them!

    1. Jackie says:

      Lu, Sorry to hear that you didn’t love it.

      I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like the cloud man. I can see why you’d think it was gimmicky – it is such a fine line between innovation and trying to be too clever. I thought it was a fantastic idea, but would love to know if there is actually any medical basis for it.

      At least you enjoyed Thisbe and Henry – I look forward to reading your review.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Who is going to win the Pulitzer Prize 2010? – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno « Regular Rumination
  3. Oh I should get that, or Additions to my Wishlist #3 « Kinna Reads
  4. Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #11 « Gaskella
  5. Family in crisis! Will quirkiness pull them through? « Gaskella
  6. REVIEW: The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno | Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

Leave a Reply