Book of Extraordinary Tragedies (Paperback)
From the best-selling author Joe Meno, a moving novel about the impossibility of fate and family.
“Joe Meno is one of those Chicago writers floating around so long that we take his sturdiness for granted. His latest, though, Book of Extraordinary Tragedies, the tale of Evergreen Park musical prodigies who reunite after ages of failure and loss, is a career best, a reminder of how unusually hopeful and buoyant Meno has remained all this time. It’s a charmer and a breakthrough.” —Chicago Tribune, Fall Books Preview
"As in all his tender and edgy fiction, Meno's poetic prose is infused with sweet compassion and sharp protest as he marvels over 'the beautiful failure of all human beings struggling against their own glorious mistakes' while, somehow, finding a way forward." —Booklist, Starred Review
Aleksandar and Isobel are siblings and former classical music prodigies, once destined for greatness. As the only Eastern European family growing up on their block on the far southside of Chicago, the pair were inseparable until each was forced to confront the absurdity of tragedy at an early age and abandon their musical ambitions.
Now in their twenties, they find themselves encountering ridiculous jobs, unfulfilling romantic relationships, and the outrageousness of ordinary life. Doomed by fate, a family history of failure, an odd mother, an absent father, and a younger brother with a peculiar fondness for catastrophes, the two siblings have all but given up.
But when an illness forces Isobel and her three-year-old daughter to move back into the family home, Aleks becomes deeply involved in the endless challenges that surround his relatives. Once Isobel begins playing cello again, Aleks comes to see a world of possibility and wonder in the lives of his extraordinarily complicated family.
Told in Aleks’s exuberant voice, and full of as much comedy as tragedy, this entertaining novel asks, Is it ever truly possible to separate our fates from those we’ve come to love?
About the Author
JOE MENO is a fiction writer and journalist who lives in Chicago. Winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, and a finalist for the Story Prize, Meno is the best-selling author of several novels and short story collections including Marvel and a Wonder, The Great Perhaps, The Boy Detective Fails, and Hairstyles of the Damned; he also edited Chicago Noir: The Classics. He is a professor in the English and Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. Book of Extraordinary Tragedies is his latest work.
[A] richly embroidered coming-of-age story . . . An uplifting and interesting exploration of one family’s struggle for existence in the United States, against the backdrop of history, classical and popular music, and the financial crisis of 2007–08; highly recommended.
— Library Journal
Joe Meno’s Book of Extraordinary Tragedies captures something of a modern-day naturalism. His characters, a family of Eastern Europeans living on Chicago’s South Side, are—like those of Frank Norris and Ernest Hemingway—molded by their social conditions, shaped by their heredity, and victims of seemingly inescapable poverty, drugs, and crime . . . The novel itself can be seen as a symphony of artful complexity with careful timbre, melody, and countermelody all harmonizing together . . . if you’re seeking a dark commentary on the life of a third-generation immigrant family in 21st-century America—one that reveals its more subtle undertones only upon additional reads—the author gives you exactly that.
— Washington Independent
With his nuanced portrayal of Chicago’s ethnic, class, and cultural dividing lines, Meno once again proves himself a true heir to Stuart Dybek for the way he captures the essence of life in our neighborhoods.
— Chicago Reader
Joe Meno is among a couple other writers (Kevin Wilson and Patrick DeWitt) who do a genre I’m going to call SadQuaint. It’s a little Wes Anderson, a little morose, and a Joe Meno SadQuaint is always a pleaser.
Meno knows how to make you love his characters, want what they want. But don’t think he’s going to let things turn out well for them.
— New York Times Book Review
Though the family saga is relatively simple, the characters’ passions and their desire for fulfillment is made achingly real. This ought to please Meno’s fans and win him some more.
— Publishers Weekly
[D]espite the long odds stacked against his characters, Meno keeps their story buoyant . . .They’re hopelessly optimistic in their own twisted way . . . What this story gets so right is how so many of us live in the past and the present all at once.
— Chicago Reader