I first encountered Joe Meno way back in 2011 when I read The Boy Detective Fails, which was a wonderfully quirky story. That following October at the 2011 Boston Book Festival I picked up this novel and it’s taken me almost four years to get to it. I’d love to say it was worth the wait, but I’m not really sure and that had very little to do with Meno’s writing or storytelling (Amazon Affiliate link).
This was by far one of the worst copy edited books I’ve ever read. I found a mistake about halfway through (see photo at the end) and then I found them on every two-to-three pages after that. They weren’t even minor comma mistakes, which I’d miss, they were WHOLE WORDS MISSING FROM SENTENCES!
But I won’t let that detract from my response, as the book was incredibly well done! Meno has such a knack for writing quirky, yet loveable child/teen characters. The protagonist of the story, Dough, and his brother, Pill-bug, are fascinating miscreants. They’re just acting out from being torn from the only home they’ve known and plopped down in podunk nowhere. Add in Dough’s only friend, eye-ball stealing Lottie, who I imagine to be slightly crazy-eyed and to breathe really heavily, and you’ve got a fascinating pallet of younger characters.
Outside of the characters, there was little to “love” in the book, but Meno wrote it that way. If you could suck all of the sunshine and joy out of the world, you would end up in this book. There was a starkness, reminiscent of Steinbeck, and a sense of impending doom that hovered over the entire novel. Of the entire novel, one scene stood out more than any other to me: the dog fight. Now I’m not a big fan of books that talk about animals being harmed, but Meno’s descriptions were both beautiful and horrifying. They gave the sense of watching a train barreling down the tracks and an oblivious car driver pulling onto the tracks. Will there be a crash? Will the car get stuck? It was so tense that I stopped reading for a few days after that scene, I couldn’t handle whatever came next.
Recommendation: I think it’s worth the read, but definitely don’t read it if you’re already feeling morose. It might be a bit too much and put you over the edge. Also, check to see if there’s a digital version in hopes that all the typos are sorted out. I’m not sure I would seek out other works by Meno, but if I stumble across them I would definitely consider reading them!
Opening Line: “They split us up at the end of summer.”
Closing Line: “The night was not yet over, but my brother was gone, long gone, never to be heard from again, left only in my mind as a name and a single shot of a photo no one had ever had the chance to take; a desperate gray-eyed boy, by himself on a silver bus, headed south, lost and alone, fighting to forget all the things that hung in his awful dreams, where the reach of a fire would somehow always glow.” (Whited out.)