Once upon the time there was a man named Joe Meno, a writer for Punk Planet in Chicago. His first novel was published by St. Martin's in 1999 and then, a breakout...maybe. His second novel was picked up by Judith Regan's legendary Regan Books for release in 2001.
The Regan list was tight, with very little fiction, but among those fiction authors were Gregory Maguire and Wally Lamb. Each book was marketed aggressively--she came from a background at Pocket, and before that, the tabloids. There was always lots of publicity.
The book was How the Hula Girl Sings, a post-pulp novel of an ex-con pumping gas, trying to escape the ghosts of his past. My fellow bookseller Dan was a big fan (oh, and he wouldn't mind you stopping in for a drink to talk books at the Palm Tavern, where he tends bar) but this was in the days before social networking. Our marketing was mainstream, and Meno was anything but.
In the end, the event didn't work, and the book probably didn't either, because Meno stepped back and had his next book published by the indie, Akashic Books, run by the visionary Johnny Temple (I think I've run on about his "Noir" mystery series in some blog or indexed email, but if not, I should have).
Hairstyles of the Damned, a novel of growing up punk in Chicago, wound up being quite the success, both in a number of indies and even B&N, which several times mentioned it in reports as a surprise success. Temple wound up publishing How the Hula Girl Sings in paperback as well.
The next novel, The Boy Detective Fails, a tale of said detective after ten years in a mental hospital and his attempt to determine the reason for his sister's suicide, was also published by Akashic. Here's where my lapsed memory comes in. I fear we had another event, and I fear it didn't work.
You can see where this is going.
Meno's now at Norton, a large publisher but still indie, and ready for the publication of his new novel The Great Perhaps. It's still got Meno's experimental stylings but it's bound into the structure of a classic family dysfunction novel, revolving around the academic Caspers of Hyde Park, Chicago, their two children, and patriarch Jonathan's father. It's smart, surprising, meditative, and packs an emotional punch without the least bit of treacle.
Everybody's searching for meaning and connection, their younger daughter Thisbe through religion, their older Amelia through justice, their grandfather Henry through memory, mother Madeline through controlled experiment and father Jonathan through exploration. This is the kind of novel where the stories and themes and images interconnect in boundless ways, where you put the book down for a while to make some flow charts.
It's all connected by clouds and cloudiness, uncertainty and maybe's.
I loved it, thought of Meno now teaching at Columbia College in Chicago, and figured it would be not that hard to get him to come up for our opening month of events. I wasn't counting on my location's legacy of past failure. It was time to beg.
Meno suggested another author to read with him. We've got a solid opening act, and I'm very proud to host him. It's Bayard Godsave, ex Schwartz Bookseller, solid contributor to numerous literary journals, and instructor at several institutions around Milwaukee. I so much enjoyed hearing him read a few years ago when we had a bookseller/writer event that I hoped to have a bigger platform for him.
And I'm no fool either; I think the folks who know Bayard and will come out to hear him read will love Meno too.
So this is out last chance, Milwaukee, our big maybe, at least at 2559 North Downer Avenue. The event is Friday, May 29th at 7 PM. Come out in force to meet a couple of fascinating authors and we've got a friend for life. Skip it, and next time he'll definitely be bypassing us for greener pastures.
Oh, and here's another thing. Boswellian Sharon read Hairstyles of the Damned after spotting it in a library's young adult section. This is the perfect book for your angsty teen apparently. She gives it a big thumbs up.