An inspired collection of 20 stories, brilliant in its command of tone and narrative perspective.
Among the features that distinguish the latest from Chicago author Meno (The Boy Detective Fails, 2006, etc.) are illustrations for each story by a top graphic artist (Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns and Archer Prewitt among them). Another plus: Some of the proceeds will help support 826Chicago, a tutoring center for student writers from the McSweeney’s magazine combine. Creativity and empathy mark the collection. Most of the narrators (and/or protagonists) are misfits at odds with the world or with themselves—brothers involved in complex relationships; lovers who have yet to consummate their affairs or have become estranged; kids misunderstood or misused by adults. They often reveal more to the reader than they know about themselves, as they struggle to learn, as one wife tells her husband, “how to be happy in a world that isn’t as good as you think it should be.” The most astonishing story is “Airports of Light,” in which a woman’s malignant tumor is depicted as a city growing inside her, one where her lover can travel if he’s willing to abandon the world he knows. Another standout, “The Unabomber and My Brother,” mixes fact and fiction, while the elliptically rich opening story, “Frances the Ghost,” about a “small, strange girl” who is both very precocious and very disturbed, shows how Meno’s tales reveal themselves gradually, in stages. Titles tell the tales: “Miniature Elephants Are Popular” features pets the size of tiny dogs, “Art School Is Boring So” offers the ruminations of a student who “hates mass production but…secretly likes Britney Spears.” “What a Schoolgirl You Are” addresses the reader as a teenaged girl and “Oceanland” details the world’s most decrepit family theme park. Two of the shorter stories, “The Boy Who Was a Chirping Oriole” and “Iceland Today,” read more like postmodern gimmicks, but even here Meno is never less than amusing.
Illustrations enhance the already vivid storytelling.