My Year in Books: The Great Perhaps

by Patrick on December 18, 2009

The Great Perhaps is set in the days leading up to the 2004 presidential election.  It couldn’t have been set at any other time.  If I might delve into a little bit of personal history here, I think the incredible anxiety, fear and anger that so many of my friends felt as that election approached were heavily diluted thanks to an event that occurred days before the election (an event that doesn’t make into Meno’s novel, I might add):  the Boston Red Sox rallied from three games down to beat the New York Yankees and then went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.  That election, which I think had disastrous effects for the country and, one could argue, for the world as a whole, will forever be associated with one of the great joys of my life.

That being said, reading The Great Perhaps brought me back to the tense moments before that election.  It’s a strength of the book and of Meno’s writing that he can conjure a time and a moment in the nation’s psyche so fully and so accurately.  Meno himself has said that this book was about control, how we crave it and how it’s constantly eluding us.  Each of the members of the Casper family of Hyde Park, Chicago, is struggling with a crises, either professional or personal.

At the time, I liked the narrative of the two teenage daughters best, but looking back on the book, it’s the plight of Madeleine, the biologist wife, that I keep thinking about.  Madeleine can’t figure out why the pigeons in her experiment keep murdering each other.  She also can’t quite figure out how she feels about her marriage either.  As a result, she finds herself following a mysterious man-shaped cloud all over Chicago.  While this might sound ridiculous, in Meno’s hands, it’s heartbreaking.

The Great Perhaps is a bold novel, a big book that spans generations in its own curious way.  It also pulls off the rare feat of being somewhat unconventional (each chapter is from a different character’s point of view, with each character getting his or her own style, as well) without being alienating or confusing.  Despite having a bunch of books under his belt already, Meno is at the beginning of his great career.  Thank God for that.