Marvel and a Wonder

An old man and his grandson inherit a white mare due to a clerical error in a will. Taking care of the horse leads them to grow close after years of living together but never truly connecting. Joe Meno's Marvel and a Wonder takes this familiar story of how an animal can bring people together and jettisons it a third of the way into the book. Instead, Meno seems more interested in the lengths men will go to change their circumstances, and what depravity they'll accomplish along the way.

Two meth addicts steal the horse and lead the man and his grandson on a cross-country search, leaving a wake of bodies that borders on the ridiculous. While Meno writes in lush sentences, evoking authors like William Faulkner, his plot feels akin to Cormac McCarthy. Marvel and a Wonder is about bad men--even the purportedly good ones.

The horse itself may be the most interesting character. Meno nicely contrasts its gentleness toward the grandson, Quentin (as in Quentin Compson, from The Sound and the Fury), and the wildness the horse shows when the grandfather races it against other horses. There are hints from time to time that the mare may be supernatural, and the strange effect it has on people (especially those who mean to sell it for their own gain) emphasizes that depiction. While Marvel and a Wonder doesn't quite come together at the end, it's still a fitting addition to the canon of books about hard men and their relationship to nature. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

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