Monday, September 19, 2022

Book of Extraordinary Tragedies, by Joe Meno: "Family will find a way"

Joe Meno is the best, and his new novel, Book of Extraordinary Tragedies, is another terrifically quintessential Chicago story from him. It's a novel about family and striving and choices, and whether or not anyone is able to escape their fate, their history, their family's past. 

Mitt Romney famously said that if someone really wants to go to college, all he has to do is "borrow money from his parents." For Aleks Fa, who wasn't born on third base thinking he hit a triple, that's not an option. Aleks, a 20-year-old southsider navigating life in a Polish neighborhood with an absent father and a sick mother, is the only thing keeping the rest of his family together - getting his three-year-old niece Jazzy to preschool, looking after his 13-year-old brother Daniel who is having some trouble, and taking his older sister, Isobel, a former music prodigy and math genius, to chemo. It's a lot. 

It's 2008 and the Great Recession is just starting. But to this family that barely scrapes by -- and only then by all helping each other -- the financial collapse barely registers. That's just how the world works, to them. People are poor. They struggle. Money is barely a real thing. So for a family like this, and an extremely likable and root-for-able character like Aleks, is there even a path out of poverty? What if hard work simply is never enough?

Meno gets this just right -- it's a story that feels real and immediate. And there are moments of pure levity -- especially in the relationships between Aleks and Isobel -- two siblings who spend as much time at each others throats as they do genuinely caring for each other.

I really loved this book. I love Meno's insightful writing and how he portrays Chicago. It really has that Chicago gritty feel. I've loved all his books, but this one is my favorite from him. 

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