Magnificent Joe

James Weathley, Author
James Wheatley. Oneworld (PGW, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-85168-966-8
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This fine first book, half bildungsroman and half "state of England" novel, tells the story of Jim and his mates growing up in a village in the north of England. The titular Joe is "mental"—a British slang for a kind of learning disorder or mental disability—a and prone to refer to things he likes as "magnificent." After an oblique, elliptical prologue, the story kicks off in October, 2004 with Jim and his high-school friends working construction, their lives revolving around work and the pub. The slightly bookish Jim used to have academic potential, but a flashback relates how an adolescent fight landed him in prison for several years. Now the 30-something is trying to make sense of his life again. He is disaffected, but not irredeemably so. He continues to read and generously helps pitiful Joe ("a slow shambles of a man") and his aging mother ("Mrs. Joe") when he has a chance. The book contains all manner of drama: a massive lottery prize, painful past histories, a deadly work accident. Joe's story, although at times teetering on the melodramatic, is full of passion and pathos, and Wheatley can sure turn a phrase. Though the complex narrative can be confusing, this is ultimately a sweetly sad story. Agent: Euan Thorneycroft, AM Heath (UK) (Apr.)
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