Family in crisis! Will quirkiness pull them through?

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno.

This is a tale of a dysfunctional American family – an academic couple and their two daughters, they are four very different characters… 

Let’s meet the Casper family:  Father – Jonathan, who has epilepsy provoked by seeing clouds, and is searching for the giant squid; Mother – Madeline keeps the family together and researches violence among pigeon flocks; older daughter Amelia – a teenaged rebel who edits the school paper and wants to make a bomb; and finally fourteen year old Thisbe who spends much time praying and talking to God, and lastly Jonathan’s father, Henry, who is fading away in an care home.

The Caspers are having a hard time living with each other.  Jonathan is consumed with his studies at the University of Chicago, and forgets to take his epilepsy medication. Madeline suffers in silence, but is seething inside. Meanwhile, Amelia writes one too many inflammatory articles in the school paper and gets suspended, and Thisbe prays for everyone. Henry has decided to utter one less word per day in his personal prison. This family is in severe danger of falling apart.

The chapters alternate between the characters voices, and they are quite distinct, especially Madeline, who thinks in extended bullet points, lettered from A to Z.  Jonathan is rather laissez-faire about everything except his envy of his French rival in the squid hunt.  Amelia is just bolshy and an irritant, whereas Thisbe is lovely and caring and wishes she could sing. Madeline, in direct contrast to Jonathan’s weird allergy, also finds herself obsessed by a man-shaped cloud which seems to always be there. The Caspers are all scared of talking to each other, so much so that things will come to a head and I did find myself wanting to read on and find out whether they made it to the end of the book as a family unit. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan and Thisbe, finding Madeline too uptight and confused, and Amelia just needed bringing back into the real world from her revolutionary imagined one.

If you enjoy reading campus novels, and can put up with a dysfunctional family with a high quirk quotient, this tragicomedy may be your thing. I enjoyed it a lot. (7.5/10) I was given this book.

For other reviews read href=”http://justwilliamsluck.blogspot.com/2010/05/both-astonishing-and-quite-ordinary.html/”>Just William’s Luck and Farm Lane Books

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9 thoughts on “Family in crisis! Will quirkiness pull them through?

  1. I was sent a free copy of this from the publishers very kindly after I commented on another blog that discussed it and said it sounds interesting. Now its arrived I can’t work out if I will like it or not. Your review makes me think in some ways I might and in some ways I might not… what do you reckon, should I give it a whirl over the summer?

  2. Hard to gauge whether I think you’d enjoy it or find it a bit annoying! I’d give it 4 chapters, then you’ll have met the 4 main voices, said she, hedging her bets.

  3. I loved this book, but I like quirky :-) I loved the way each character had such a different voice and had their own bizarre agenda. I thought it was all very clever, but I understand why some people are finding it a bit weird.

    • I enjoyed it too apart from the whole cloud man business, which I could understand, but wasn’t wowed by, but this was made up for by Thisbe being adorable.

  4. Wait, he decides to utter one less word a day each day? So if he starts by uttering 1000 words a day, the next day it’s 999 and the next day it’s 998 until at last he utters no words at all? *intrigued by mechanics of it all*

    • Jenny, at the book’s start Henry is already down to just a few tens of words … This bit is very symbolic and sad – makes you think twice about the idea of putting folk in a home.

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