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by Joe Meno

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-393-06796-5
Publisher: Norton

Purposefully fragmented, often beguiling novel about a Chicago family’s slow disintegration as its disgruntled members search in vain for the ethereal things they believe will set them free.

His back catalog is largely rooted in punk-rock and pulp-fiction attitudes, but Meno (Demons in the Spring, 2008, etc.) takes a shot at adulthood here. The Casper family patriarch is middle-aged Jonathan, who teaches paleontology at the University of Chicago. Single-mindedly on the trail of a legendary giant squid, the wretched professor is compromised by a rare form of epilepsy that causes seizures when he sees a cloud. His family is just as displeased as his disbelieving employers. Jonathan’s regretfully dutiful wife, scientist Madeline (whose chapters all come in a bothersome outline format, arranged alphabetically), has had enough of her overworked husband, the dead pigeons ruining her experiments and the mysterious “cloud-figure” she sees in the backyard. Their daughter Amelia is either raging at her elders, stumbling through the pretense of sex with a young professor or planning to build a bomb to satisfy her revolutionary instincts. Younger sister Thisbe discovers the turmoil of 14 with a frustrating crush on her classmate Roxie and a fruitless search for God in the city’s cathedrals. Jarring the story most is Jonathan’s aged father Henry, whose (possibly unreliable) memories hurl the story off in uninspired directions. Henry has decided that he will make himself disappear—if not by fleeing, which he tries often, then by speaking a little less each day. At the crossroads between all these relations is a near-divorce, some adult revelations, an adolescent breakthrough and even a few surprisingly tender moments of forgiveness.

Definitely out of the ordinary, and not the ideal book to digest in one sitting, but a mature step forward for this unsettling postmodernist.