Saturday, January 31, 2009

Joe Meno

Can we please talk about Joe Meno for a few minutes?

I've posted before about his novel Demons in the Spring. I once recommended The Boy Detective Fails to a stranger at the Brooklyn Book Fair, and he loved it so much he wrote to me to say thank you. I dragged my roommate to see Meno read at the KGB on his Spring book tour, and she loved his reading so much she bought the whole book even though it was $27 in hardcover. An extremely thoughtful person I am lucky enough to know bought me a copy of Tender as Hellfire for Christmas and I recently finished it in an airport after my flight was canceled.

Here is what Meno always gets right: the complex and unusual way that characters think. There is a level of detail that he strikes that few authors can match. He never underestimates his readers. However, Meno's first novel is messy and unedited. It's a testament to his talent that his characters endure this, that they are as resonant as they are; that Val, the diner waitress whom Dough worships, can appear beautiful, disgusting, and tragic all at once.

Meno really hits his stride in The Boy Detective Fails, a book that combines the traditional with the modern. This book makes me think of The Royal Tenenbaums - it's equally dark and funny. Meno uses the traditional format of a children's mystery book, and practically opens with an unsatisfactory ending. He asks, what happens next? What does a famous detective do when he's past his prime? What happens when the source of your fame and identity unravels, and you feel it's all your fault? Meno weaves in a secret code on the bottom of each page, using ROT-13 (the geek term for A = 13, used in primitive computer coding). Not to mention the stories in Demons in the Spring, which are simultaneously heartbreaking and hysterical. The illustrations in this volume are the icing on the cake, making the book a valuable art object as well as a polished work of fiction.

You can read an interview with him on Bookslut, or listen to an interview with him on NPR.

He's also an excellent reader, and an amiable person. I believe firmly that he's got the right balance of traditional story-writing and the DavidFosterWallace/DaveEggers generation quirkiness to endure the weight of the recession.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to read his upcoming novel from W. W. Norton, titled The Great Perhaps.

His short story "An Apple Could Make You Laugh" was published in Ninth Letter, and you can listen to it read aloud on Ninth Letter's website. I would like to record this story aloud. I would like to read you, Dear Reader, a short story each week. I will think about this idea when I am back in New York with my (former boss's) Mac.

Honestly, he's worth it. Look into Demons in the Spring or The Boy Detective Fails when you next reach a bookstore. I'll let you know how Hairstyles of the Damned is when I've finished it - hooray!

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