My love-hate relationship with Joe Meno

photo from Goodreads

I have a literary crush on Joe Meno. “Who’s Joe Meno?” you ask. Well, he’s a Chicago author and playwright. My crush began when I read his thought-provoking novel, The Great Perhaps, perhaps one of the finest deconstructions of the modern family I’ve ever read.

Beneath all of her thoughts and worries, beneath the complication of conflicting identities and needs, maybe it’s as simple as loving the way some other person looks when they’re sleeping.”

I couldn’t believe I’d never read any of his work. I mean – he’s a CHICAGOAN for goodness sake. And his books have terrific titles.

I headed to the library to find the wonderfully named, Hairstyles of the Damned. Uh-oh. This slip of a novel was nothing like the American masterpiece I had just read.  Although I enjoyed the familiar references to coming-of-age in Chicago in the late 80s, I couldn’t relate to the whiny protagonist Brian Oswald.

Determined not to be wrong in my first impression, I went back for more Joe Meno. Tender as Hellfire confirmed the crush. How could I not love a book about two trailer park brothers named Pill and Dough? Their world is ugly and damaged and filled with the most bizarre losers, but Meno makes it all beautiful.

After school the very next day, El Rey’s mobile home was gone. I laid in bed and wondered what happens to people when they go, if they become like shadows, if they fade away when they disappear from your life. The only thing I could see was the broken picket fence. The only sound I could hear was the cry of birds being killed in the night.”

I love these boys in all their broken-ness.

So, as if I didn’t like this guy enough, I discover that he used my brother-in-law’s artwork on the cover of his short story collection, Demons in the Spring. Unlike any of the novels I had read by Meno, these are 20 quirky stories filled with magical realism, each accompanied by an original art illustration. How cool is this guy?

Well, based on his latest novel, Office Girl, Joe Meno is seemingly too cool for me.

He is quite obviously outside my reach in the hipster, Wicker Park world of artists and authors. The plot revolves around a hopeless love affair and, once again, incorporates illustrations, but not as effectively as with his short stories.

His characters, Odile and Jack, are members of that certain generation of aimless, hipster, dreamers. I recognize them without knowing them. I’m fairly certain they each have at least one politically significant tattoo. Jack is likely in need of a haircut and they wear deliberately ironic graphic t-shirts. They’re not exactly unlikable, but they are too self-aware to be my friends (even my imaginary fictionalized ones.)

So, apparently, my crush is a little more of a love-hate relationship. I have a few more Meno books to tackle. I think I’ll go with How the Hula Girl Sings, based on title alone.

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One thought on “My love-hate relationship with Joe Meno

  1. Joe Meno is absolutely worthy of being a literary crush! I also happened to have a disconnect with Hairstyles of the Damned, but I have a feeling I just couldn’t relate enough to the characters…this is an instance in which I am pretty sure it doesn’t detract in any way from the writing. I really loved Demons in the Spring! Haven’t read Hula yet though…A

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