This Chicago writer and playwright (also, lately, maker of short films) is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living short story authors. His novels and non-fiction are pretty swell, too. You may have read him in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The New York Times, or Punk Planet. His work ranges from straightforward prose grounded with naturalistic dialog to magical realism interspersed with poetic language.
If you are looking for a contemporary novel set in Chicago, you can’t do much better than The Great Perhaps. It follows a Chicago family, the Caspers, as the parents struggle with their marriage and careers. The grandfather, Henry, reacts to facing death. One daughter embraces Christianity while the other flirts with anarcho-terrorism. Ordinary problems unfold into extraordinary events. There is also a political element, as it is set during the 2004 election season, and the novel also explores the limits of science and faith, with quite a bit of emphasis on the significance of science, as the parents of the family are research scientists and academics at the University of Chicago.
There are some great lines in here, like, “Madeline decides Jonathan is an immature, selfish asshole and that she is never talking to him again,” and, “Please tear my limbs from their sockets and let the backseat and my older sister be totally covered with blood.” There are parts that make you laugh, parts that make you cry, and parts that make you want to break shit. Since I prefer a novel that makes me feel something, that’s all good to me. I am not the only fan, either. Critics liked it, too–The Great Perhaps won the Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction in 2009 and a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice award.
With six novels, three plays, and two short story collections to his name, you can start reading Joe Meno’s work now and finish just in time for 2014 Story Week, a writing festival where he often reads, or if you’re a very fast reader, the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, where you can buy his work and where he has read in past years.