Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

Catalog » Browse by Title: M » Marvel and a Wonder

Marvel and a Wonder


Grandfather and grandson must journey into the underworld of the American Midwest in search of both courage and redemption.

Click here to read an excerpt from the novel.

$15.95 $11.96

Available as an e-book for:

What people are saying…

Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for the Region’s Best Books of 2015 (Adult Fiction)

Named a Booklist Editors’ Choice for 2015

Long-listed for the American Library Association’s 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

“Meno makes the most banal prose—grunts and salutations, small talk over meals—compelling and necessary . . . [He] has a knack for giving small happenings emotional weight . . . 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. Marvels and wonders aren’t worth the trouble. Fortunately, this book is.”
New York Times Book Review

“[A] rugged page-turner . . . There’s a bit of the country noir of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone in the stark atmosphere Mr. Meno evokes (‘A faded town, fading, harried with dusty light, midafternoon’), and a bit of the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino in the story of the vigilante grandfather. But the writing is propulsive enough to make you forget its influences. And at moments the book’s consuming darkness is lifted by potent, if inscrutable visions of the talismanic horse—a flash of lightning curving along the horizon.”
Wall Street Journal

Marvel and a Wonder . . . [is] a great contemporary Western that’s deliciously dark and full of unpleasant characters. I loved it, for whatever grim reason that lurks in my soul (and it’s got a fantastic cover), though I’d say it’s probably not for the faint of heart.”
Library Journal

“But in two new books—a big novel, Marvel and a Wonder, and the anthology Chicago Noir: The Classics, published simultaneously in early September by Akashic in hardcover and paperback—we’re reminded that Meno has a dark side that on occasion he lets out of jail, allowing it to cast a long and menacing shadow.”
Chicago Tribune

“Evoking William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, Meno’s suspenseful, mordantly incisive, many-layered tale can also be read as an equine Moby-Dick. As he tracks the bewildering seismic shifts under way in America, Meno celebrates everyday marvels, including the hard-proven love between grandfather and grandson.”
Booklist, Starred review

“In this high-stakes, mordantly incisive, compassionate drama, Quentin, a mixed-race teen, is spending the summer with Jim, his white grandfather, when a magnificent white racehorse is inexplicably delivered to Jim’s Indiana farm.”
Booklist, Editors’ Choice

“Talented Meno has penned a wise and touching novel of love, loyalty, courage; an extraordinary book not to be missed.”
Library Journal, Starred review

“A remarkable book; Meno deftly turns the American Dream onto its ass but displays facets of Americans that are so true that it will make your heart hurt.”
Library Journal, Books for Dudes column

“Faulkner-ian epic for the contemporary age. . . . [Meno] draws on the grave themes and austere styles of writers like Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell to offer a mix of biblical allegories, tinder-dry prose, and noble characters trying to survive in a wretched world. . . . The novel’s prose is marvelous in its spare, convincing grit while the story’s themes of family, redemption, sacrifice, and faith echo the plays of Sam Shepard at times. . . . A grandiose, atmospheric portrait of Middle America in all its damaged glory.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The latest by Meno is a compelling mash-up of magic and the absurd with the grittiness of a world inhabited by punks, thieves, and losers, as a grandfather and his grandson take a road trip through 1990s rural America in search of their stolen horse. . . . This is a provocative reflection on the lives of the disenfranchised in the waning days of the 20th century, with a bittersweet resolution that will resonate with readers.”
Publishers Weekly

Selected as a Midwest Connections pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association

“While Meno writes in lush sentences, evoking authors like William Faulkner, his plot feels akin to Cormac McCarthy. . . . A fitting addition to the canon of books about hard men and their relationship to nature. Discover: A pastoral novel of family, desperation and a horse like no other.”
Shelf Awareness

“[Marvel and a Wonder] is a unique take on the generation gap between a Korean war vet and his sixteen-year-old grandson, exploring themes like faith, sacrifice and family . . . With a bit of crime, tragedy and even love.”
MTV News

“The book draws comparisons to William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and Toni Morrison. It’s at once a story about two people and an exploration of the past, present, and future of the country. . . . As the fate of the horse, of Jim Falls, of Quentin—of America!—becomes more perilous, the book picks up speed. The story is operating on different levels—as a family story, an epic, and in the end a page-turner—but they remain skillfully balanced.”
Chicago Reader

“An emotionally honest exploration of the human need for connection.”

“In telling the story of Jim and Quentin, Meno broadens the conversation about the winners and losers of the global economy. . . . Both [protagonist] Jim Falls and Marvel and a Wonder seem like a reimagining of those great old depression era novels by John Steinbeck and William Faulkner and Meridel Le Sueur. The book makes visible the typically invisible victims of unjust economic policies. It makes these characters people—flawed and beautiful.”
The Millions

“Joe Meno’s latest novel is an incredible modern myth involving horses, a dying agrarian economy, and the idea of American masculinity, and it also happens to be the most spot-on depiction of north central Indiana in the mid-’90s I’ve ever read.”
—The Millions, Janet Potter’s A Year in Reading

“The always-wonderful Joe Meno is back with a many layered tale. . . . This is a departure from Meno’s usual novels, and borders on Cormac McCarthy territory.”
Book Riot

“I’ve long adored Joe Meno’s novels, which seamlessly blend magical realism with the grittiest elements of reality. . . . If you like novels that are both moving and exciting, then don’t miss this one.”
Literary Hub, The Great Booksellers Fall Preview of 2015 (selected by John Cleary from Papercuts J.P.)

“Meno’s greatest gift is his love and compassion for his characters. . . . A whole range of Southern lit influences pervade [Marvel and a Wonder], from icons like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor to more contemporary writers like Donna Tartt and Cormac McCarthy. He evokes the landscape in terse, no-frills language, and peppers it with menace. He confronts racism through the boy, whose father is black. The journey harrows their spirits. Meno, in other words, continues to grow as a writer, though his sensibility remains intact. The characters here are once again the engines of the book—or, more aptly, it is Meno’s interest and unwavering sympathy for them that drives it.”
Literary Hub, feature on Joe Meno

“I’ve always been impressed by Meno’s ability to create true-to-life characters packaged with a high or sly humor. His latest novel, though, enters new territory with a much more serious tone, delivering a crime story with some very dark deeds, callousness, a little heart, and a bounty of beautiful writing.”
Literary Hub, Interview with a Bookstore: The Mysterious Bookshop (selected by manager Ian Kern) (also at Guardian)

“Joe Meno’s hauntingly lovely, richly detailed Marvel and a Wonder examines the contentious and, eventually, tender relationship between seventy-one-year-old widower Jim Falls and his teenage grandson Quentin.”

“Compelling . . . . A character-driven story of loss in America’s heartland. It’s a story of flawed characters and a landscape that, despite occasional beauty, has been used up and passed over . . . . It’s a book that despite its damaged characters, consistently reaches for excellence: a wonder.”
Foreword Reviews

“Meno has written a book that honors the values of old men and exposes their prejudices, where the young transcend their apathy to claim a fractured future.”
Foreword Reviews, Reviewers’ Choice: Our 2015 Favorites

“Meno’s stylistic inventiveness, humane curiosity and fictional range are always impressive.”
Newcity, Fall Lit Preview 2015

“In this ambitious epic, a man and his grandson embark on a cross-country journey to find a missing horse.”
Chicago Magazine

Wonder explodes into a breakneck thriller as grandfather and grandson try to recover the horse, and run into characters even more nefarious than the horse thief.”
Capital Times

“A Moby Dick for Middle America.”
Wisconsin State Journal

“[The novel] pays testament to human persistence, in the persons of grandfather and grandson, as they carry on to retrieve what’s theirs. Meno excels at setting a scene, and most chapters begin with a short, single paragraph, almost poetic in its description of place. One particularly vivid scene captures [one character] crawling around in broken glass on his kitchen floor, scratching up change. It’s this kind of tragic vision that makes Marvel And A Wonder something of a miracle.”
Santa Fe New Mexican

“The grit is palpable in Joe Meno’s Marvel and a Wonder. . . . reminiscent of Gran Torino. . . .in the same vein as Cormac McCarthy.”
Des Moines City View

“Though Meno crafts a dramatic arc that is both compelling and approachable, his true stride is found in the way small moments are expanded to feel monumental through simple dialogue or the way Quentin actively watches his grandfather breathe, just to make sure he is still alive. . . . Though characters have a layer of complexity elevated above everyday experiences, Meno includes small moments of intense, capital H humanity.”
Columbia Chronicle

“In his gritty new novel, Marvel and a Wonder, Chicago writer Joe Meno has reinvented himself again, exploring the haunting human and natural landscapes of the rural Midwest in the vein of the Coen brothers’ Fargo and No Country for Old Men. . . . Bleak and beautiful.”
Gapers Block

“I had high hopes for Marvel and a Wonder, but it’s not the novel I was hoping for—it’s better. . . . In the dark corners of this world, Meno finds light and beauty to suddenly thrust before readers. . . . Meno’s skillful interplay of light and shadow propels the plot through what could be, in another writer’s hands, dozens of pages of monotonous driving, and it keeps the book on the palatable side of the Western Noir genre for readers who can’t stomach Cormac McCarthy. To dismiss it as just genre writing, however, is a great mistake. Not only is it too beautiful for that, it is also gloriously woven through with loose ends, unanswered questions, and ambiguity.”
Books & Whatnot

“Winner of the Discover Great New Writers Award and the Nelson Algren Award, among other honors, Meno can be entertainingly outré. This story of a man and his grandfather hunting for their stolen horse is also affecting.”
Library Journal Prepub Alert, Barbara Hoffert’s Galley Guide Discoveries

“Just finished Marvel and a Wonder . . . It’s all I did for two days. Amazing.”
—Susan Straight, author of A Million Nightingales

Marvel and a Wonder is such a tender love story. The love of an irascible grandfather for his baffling grandson; the love for a mysterious horse; the love for a country that no longer seems to love us back. Joe Meno writes with poise and wit and stunning amounts of empathy. What a beautiful story. What a lovely book.”
—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

“Both sprawling and intimate, Marvel and a Wonder is a vivid portrait of Heartland America, and infuses its array of characters with humor, empathy, and insight. I’ve long been an admirer of Joe Meno’s work, and this is his most ambitious book yet.”
—Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

Praise for Joe Meno:

“A beguiling and slyly disquieting storyteller . . . Meno transforms wintery Chicago into a wondrous crystallization of countless dreams and tragedies, while telling the stories of two derailed young artists . . . poignant and funny.”
Kansas City Star on Office Girl

“The wisest, most humane and transcendent novel on the contemporary family since The Corrections . . . A marvelous book.”
—Irvine Welsh on The Great Perhaps


Marvel and a Wonder is a darkly mesmerizing epic and literary page-turner set at the end of the twentieth century. In summer 1995, Jim Falls, a Korean War vet, struggles to raise his sixteen-year-old grandson, Quentin, on a farm in southern Indiana. In July, they receive a mysterious gift—a beautiful quarter horse—which upends the balance of their difficult lives. The horse’s appearance catches the attention of a pair of troubled, meth-dealing brothers and, after a violent altercation, the horse is stolen and sold. Grandfather and grandson must travel the landscape of the bleak heartland to reclaim the animal and to confront the ruthless party that has taken possession of it. Along the way, both will be forced to face the misperceptions and tragedies of their past.

Evoking the writing of William Faulkner and Denis Johnson, this brilliant, deeply moving work explores the harrowing, often beautiful marvels of a nation challenged by its own beliefs. Ambitious, expansive, and laden with suspense, Marvel and a Wonder presents an unforgettable pair of protagonists at the beginning of one America and the end of another.

Marvel and a Wonder was included as part of the Chicago Tribune‘s Fall 2015 Book Preview!

Learn more about Marvel and a Wonder in a profile on Joe Meno at Publishers Weekly.

Read features on Joe Meno at the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Capital TimesThe RumpusLiterary Hub, and Hypertext.

Check out MTV News for an interview with Joe Meno and a quiz to find out which Joe Meno book will help you survive back to school.

Read excerpts from Marvel and a Wonder at The Rumpus and The Nervous Breakdown. Also check out a self-interview by Joe Meno at The Nervous Breakdown.

Listen to interviews with Joe Meno at Book Talk with Kory French and WGN Chicago’s shows After Hours with Rick Kogan and The Download with Justin Kaufmann.

Listen to an interview with and read a feature on Joe Meno at Arts & Letters.

Check out a music playlist compiled by Joe Meno and inspired by Marvel and a Wonder at Largehearted Boy.

Marvel and a Wonder was featured in an episode of The Millions’ The Book Report. Check it out below:


Book Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Published: 9/1/15
  • IBSN: 9781617753947
  • e-IBSN: 9781617754128
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617753930


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 is a professor in the English and Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. Book of Extraordinary Tragedies is his latest work.

More info »