Fitting that the family Joe Meno’s new novel circles around dons the surname Casper, as all five of them move like phantoms in and out of each other’s existence, directly through one another, yet hardly touching at all. The grandfather, Henry, goes so far as to speak less and less as life continues on, in an effort to completely disappear. With “The Great Perhaps,” Meno deftly moves beyond the teenage angst and wrath he explored in his successful “Hairstyles of the Damned” and the experimental boy-wonder in “The Boy Detective Fails” and glides further into adult territory; the maturation in his writing is a welcomed change of pace, as big questions are asked and decidedly grown-up problems surface. Parental separation, mid-life professional frustration, kids searching for meaning here, there and everywhere—Meno gives ample attention to and offers insight from both parents, their two kids and the receding patriarch. In each of his novels, Meno has dealt with a very specific, very different sort of reality, whether it’s that of teenage punks on Chicago’s South Side, an adolescent crime-solver surrounded by buildings suddenly disappearing or, now, of a family in crisis, handicapped by cowardice and the world’s oppressive weight. And who can blame them? Life is scary. (Tom Lynch)
Joe Meno reads from “The Great Perhaps” May 7 at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.