Posted by: Corri van de Stege | May 25, 2010

Just an ordinary family?

Jo Meno – The Great Perhaps

Jonathan Casper has a problem.  Seeing anything resembling a cloud will cause him to faint.  Having been told this in the very first sentence of the book, you want to carry on reading.  What is this weird form of epilepsy, how does this affliction affect Jonathan and his family?  He has to take his medicine on time, otherwise he may just collapse, whether he is driving a car or in is the middle of an argument with his wife. 

The Great Perhaps is the story of a family, husband, wife, and two daughters as well as the grandfather, Henry Caspar, who is in a home and who is trying to make himself disappear.  They all have their quirks, like any family, each one lives in their own worlds hidden from the others.  They are tied together but they don’t seem to quite understand or accept why this should be so.  On the surface, as a family unit, there is not much that distinguishes them from any other middle class family with two teenage daughters and with both parents working as well as having an elderly grandparent who is no longer able to look after himself.   They are dysfunctional however in the sense that they live separate lives, more or less oblivious to the needs of the others, yet they keep coming back together in the nucleus simply because it’s there.

Jonathan  is a professor of Palaeontology at the University of Chicago.  He has specialised in Triassic molluscs, or the giant squid, and is devastated when a French team beats him to the discovery of a living sample, which means that his research funding will be cut.   His wife, Amelia, is a researcher, who observes pigeons and tries to map their characteristic mating behaviour.  The trouble is that she has intervened in such a way that she has upset the group balance.   

The story unfolds, with the daughters living their separate teenage existences, the parents absorbed in their own mishaps and misunderstandings and a slow but funny sliding into a second trial separation.

Jo Meno tells the story in short chapters, from the perspective of each family member in turn.  This leaves the reader hanging at times, just when you get into what is happening to the temporary main character, you suddenly find yourself observing the world from the perspective of another protagonist.  At times this causes a temporary disconnect, but never for long, as Jo Meno’s writing is  fluid, easing the transformations.  The approach of five different voices helps to emphasise their separateness. 

I very much enjoyed this book, although the style comes across as quirky at time, in the way the different voices are subjected to different writing styles.  It’s another great story of the American family, and has been compared with The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen (reviewed previously).    Definitely a good read.



  1. Sounds like an good read. Totally new to me. I’ve decided I “look but don’t see” a lot of times, at least in the bookstore. Anyway, I’m trying to convert to the library (ahahaha!) and become a good and conscientious borrower, thus having free availability to far more books. And just as I make that decision, the library cuts its hours to “summer” hours. What? Don’t more of us read in the summer? No, it has to do with school being on vacation. Oh, please.
    Anyway, thanks for this. I will check it out, one way or the other!
    And how are you doing? Traveling? Getting some free time? Work is just so relentless, isn’t it? Yet somehow centering.
    I’m off to read!

  2. Oh – How am I doing??? I’m not, at least not as far as keeping up with my own blog is concerned, let alone keeping up with yours and so many other great blogs. There really is not enough time in the day and so things drop of the edge. Until you come along, or someone else, and gently pull me back: after all, it would be terribly rude not to answer 🙂 Don’t think it will get any better for as long as I work, however, it is really good to be able to keep in touch with so many likeminded people who have just as little time.
    I’m with you on the library front – I have also become a member (again) for the first time in years and years. But then I went to the book festival – Hay-on-Wye and all good intentions floated away, got trampled on and were forgotten about in the Oxfam and Festival Book tents.

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