Friday, February 16, 2007

On Burning out, Growing up and Crashing SuperVillain conventions...

Finishing a college degree can be a bit, let's say, "frying" for the mind. Don't get me wrong, I love learning for the sake of learning, but working three independent projects in Chicago while commuting, working and living in Kankakee is a surefire way to turn your cerebellum into gelatinous meat byproduct. After all that schoolwork in December, a break was in order. Reading was set aside in favor of sleeping, making music and enjoying my biggest guilty pleasures, video games and films. I had finally come out of my reading slump at the end of January, and I already had drawn up a mammoth list of literature to devour over the next few months.

And that, dear reader, is where Joe Meno comes in. Though I'd never attended any of his classes or lectures, I knew that he was a creative writing professor at Columbia College. What a better way to celebrate graduation than by reading a work by a professor of my alma mater? (I certainly wasn't going to reread Ted Uzzle's Technical Fundamentals of Audio, as much as I liked the guy.) In fact, two of his works were sitting at the top of my list: Haircuts of the Damned and The Boy Detective Fails. I found myself surprisingly disappointed by Meno's critically well-received attempt at a coming-of-age story (Haircuts of the Damned), so I expected very little from the Chicagoan's next effort. However, the moment I laid eyes upon the small glob of introductory text tucked into the lower right corner of the first page, I knew that this work would be a special one.

The style of Boy Detective is a departure: the narration takes on a deceptively simple structure reminiscent of the genius child-sleuth genre. However, rather than presenting us with a handsome and sharp young genius child, Meno introduces us to a veritable has-been: former child genius Billy Argo, a nervous, pill-popping wash-up of a man, newly released from a ten-year stint at a mental hospital after his sister (and fellow sleuth) Caroline takes her own life. Alone and unsure in a world very different from the one in which he solved crimes as a child, Billy tries everything he can to get by - avoidance, distractions, feigning helplessness- until he gives in and does the only thing he can: solve the mystery that is the life around him.

The resulting story is simultaneously surreal and touchingly realistic, mixing bizarre crimes (disappearing buildings, scheming corporate overlords, absurd super-villain organization conventions) with mundane postmodern existence (dead-end jobs, antidepressants, social anxiety). Wry humor keeps the book in place throughout - well enough, in fact, that I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. Meno knows, it seems, how to touch his readers on many fronts. The novel slyly poses the question to us: "What happened to the wonderment and adventure of childhood?"...and answers that question quite well. For any one of us who ever faced failure in adulthood, being burnt-out after the brightness of childhood, or the loneliness in the working world, The Boy Detective Fails is for you.

Nick Garcia
Adult Services Dept.


Blogger Mary Jo Johnston said...

I'm writing on behalf of the Friends of the Library "Little Gems of Books and Authors You May Have Missed," a yearly collection of mini-book-reviews. Nick, I loved this review. Could we use it as one of our "little gems"? It makes me want to go right out and read this book.

Mary Jo Johnston

12:35 PM  
Blogger nikku neko said...

you have my permission.
thank you much for the compliment.


11:54 AM  
Blogger nikku neko said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:55 AM  

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