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How the Hula Girl Sings

How the Hula Girl Sings

4.5 6
by Joe Meno

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“A wonderful accomplishment. . . . The power is in the writing. Mr. Meno is a superb craftsman.”—Hubert Selby Jr.

“The author moves the story along at a surprisingly fast and easy pace. The evil eyes of small-town America seem to peer from every page of Meno’s claustrophobic noir, where the good and the bad are forced down the same


“A wonderful accomplishment. . . . The power is in the writing. Mr. Meno is a superb craftsman.”—Hubert Selby Jr.

“The author moves the story along at a surprisingly fast and easy pace. The evil eyes of small-town America seem to peer from every page of Meno’s claustrophobic noir, where the good and the bad are forced down the same violent paths.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock.”—Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic, Chicago Sun-Times

“A likable winner that should bolster Meno’s reputation.” —Publishers Weekly

“Joe Meno writes with the energy, honesty, and emotional impact of the best punk rock.” —Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times

“Fans of hard-boiled pulp fiction will particularly enjoy this novel.” —Booklist

A young ex-con in a small Illinois town. A lonely giant with a haunted past. A beautiful girl with a troubled heart. Strange and darkly magical, How the Hula Girl Sings begins exactly where most pulp fiction usually ends, with the vivid episode of the terrible crime itself. Three years later, Luce Lemay, out on parole for the awful tragedy, does his best to finds hope: in a new job at the local Gas-N-Go; in his companion and fellow ex-con, Junior Breen, who spells out puzzling messages to the unquiet ghosts of his past; and finally, in the arms of the lovely but reckless Charlene. How the Hula Girl Sings is a suspenseful exploration of a country bright with the far-off stars of forgiveness and dark with the still-looming shadow of the death penalty.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Luce Lemay returns to his hometown in Illinois after serving time for accidentally running down a young mother's infant daughter, but hope turns to tragedy in Meno's (Tender as Hellfire) moving second novel. Lemay is a poetic ex-con who often waxes lyrical about his remorse for his crime as well as the tragic character flaws of his equally romantic best friend from the joint, a troubled giant named Junior Breen. Lemay is also a hard worker who wants to make good, though, and events take a positive turn when he gets a job at a local gas station and meets beautiful young Charlene Dulaire, a waitress at a diner. Their romance sours when Dulaire's ex-fianc?, a brute named Earl Peet, attacks Lemay and threatens to run him out of town. Meno pens some wonderful scenes of courtship and setbacks in the course of love, and he also does some nice work bringing Breen to life and exploring his friendship with Lemay. The tragic confrontation between convicts and townies is somewhat predictable, but Meno gets considerable mileage from the give and take among Lemay's elderly boss and the two young ex-cons as they care for one another and try to overcome their earlier mistakes. Meno has a poet's feel for small-town details, life in the joint and the trials an ex-con faces, and he's a natural storyteller with a talent for characterization. The novel has some mawkish moments and certainly many disturbing ones, but overall it's a likable winner that should bolster Meno's reputation. National advertising; Midwest author appearances. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ex-con can't seem to catch a break in his old hometown. After robbing a liquor store one ugly night, Luce Lemay drives drunk and loses control of his car, killing a child in a baby carriage. A couple years later, at the start of the story, he's released from an Illinois prison and catches a bus for La Harpie, the small downstate town where he was born and raised. Luce isn't happy about going back-his crime wasn't the kind that people tend to forget-and La Harpie itself holds no promise: "A place of a kind of quiet villainy and secret lust." But there's a job there, at a gas station where Juinor, a friend from prison, has put in a good word for him. Luce has barely gotten back into town when he runs into Charlene, the younger sister of a girl he dated in high school (and who's now in a mental institution, possibly due to Luce). They each carry a doomed torch for one another, but Charlene's ex-fiance isn't having any of it. Luce struggles through the days, living in the same rooming house with Junior, an odd, older man-child who turns the gas-station signage into abstract poetry and carries a miasma of fate and death about him. Second-novelist Meno (Tender as Hellfire, 1999), a Columbia University writing professor, coats this world with Luce's fatalistic worldview (he's apparently incapable of seeing beyond the moment, or imagining any good in the world). For such grim subject matter, the author moves the story along at a surprisingly fast and easy pace, never succumbing to the overkill that American gothic tales are often prone to, seeming to take his inspiration equally from the stories of Jim Thompson and the lyrics of Nick Cave. The evil eyes of small-town America seem to peerfrom every page of Meno's claustrophic noir, where the good and the bad are forced down the same violent paths.

Product Details

Akashic Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

La Santa Angel De La Guarda

The highway was dark as hell and led up to the sky.

There was no room for headlight beams among those big silver stars. Cat's eyes. That's how they glowed. Cutting against the flutter and flicker of a thousand pale white moth wings as they slowly pounded against the windshield. Flick-flick-flick -- they left the dark black spots of their innards and old whispers all along the glass, glistening with the thin silver light thrown down from the stars above. Thick gray eaves of fog hung all along the pavement. There was no sign of anything around. No sign of any providence or luck. It was all like some sort of lonesome dream where it's just you and your awful desires, left out to burn and blister in the dark.

Did you ever watch the sky at night all over a lonely road?

Night can be the emptiest, most hollow thing you might ever feel driving towards your home, at fifty miles an hour, with an opened bottle of port and the liquor store's returns for the night and that sweet plastic-faced Virgin Mary staring down at you from her all-fiery position on top of the red vinyl dash. No, there might not be any room for you or your poor thieving dreams in that awful incorruptible night, no, not at all.

The Virgin did a little curtsy as I pulled off the highway and straight down La Harpie Road. The black vinyl steering wheel was loose in my greasy hands. My fingers were slick with my own sweat.

I had never stolen, really stolen, before.

I never had theneed.

It is strange the things a desperate man will do to keep sane. It is strange the things a desperate man will do to keep himself from feeling so desperate in the first place. My mouth was full of spit and the remains of cheap liquor. It all tasted like old steeple dust. Streetlights flashed somewhere up ahead. I could hear the dtt-dtt-dtttt stutter of the wheels over the rough pavement, rattling along to the poor mechanisms in my own mind. My eyes began to shut. I needed to sleep. A nice soft place to hide. The engine gave a little start. I opened my eyes.

Then this pretty lady walked right in front of the car.


Sweet Jesus, no.

In those still moments, I could see her soft round face. Her dress was long and pale blue. Her neck was thin and made her seem about as real as some shadow. Her lips made a little helpless move as the headlights fell across her face.

There wasn't any time to stop.

The wheel went dead right in my hands.

The baby carriage this lady pushed met the cool steely grill and shot straight up into the dark night sky, losing itself among all that pleasant distance and the sparkle of the silver stars. Good night, the tiny round wheels seemed to say as they spun around. Good night, like I was failing right into a kind of dream.

Then it was all over. Then it was as good as done.

I fell out of the car and vomited all over my dull black shoes, right before the night moved in straight through my eyes and sore mouth, knocking me down, pulling me along some desperate road out of my body, out of my own unhappy life, and straight up to Pontiac for a three to five bid for manslaughter and reckless driving. My old boss at the liquor store was Christian enough not to press charges for robbery, seeing me sunken in the sad state I had fallen in by myself.

"The prisoner will be remanded to the State of Illinois Department of Corrections until his sentence be served or until the courts see fit for his release...."

That night played over in my dreams every evening like an awful jukebox song. I would try to fix it all in my head, stopping just a foot or so short, keeping my eyes open long enough to see this poor lady with her baby carriage, her pale white skin all lit up with fear and the certainty of that unwieldy moment, her brown hair hanging long down her back, the twisted knot at the end somehow sealing all our fates, and me, me, gripping the steering wheel tighter or hitting the brakes sooner. Somehow I would always try to trick myself so it didn't all happen and that sky never fell apart, but those still seconds always ended the same; the unholy sound of the engine spinning right through my ears, pulling all the blood straight out of my body, and that tiny blue carriage being knocked up into the night, like it was so light and empty and hollow and was being lifted by the invisible hand of Solomon, straight up, disappearing among the brightest of the stars, taking its place in a fixed spot laid out by Jesus or the Virgin or some fleeting angel somewhere above, just before it all faded to black and was done.

No events before that night mattered anymore.

Those useless dark little moments suddenly held everything.

All the things that would follow would come from that single hopeless second in all of the heartlessness of space and time. All those things would send me straight through my acquaintance with the old state pen and Junior Breen and would forever change the life I would from then on lead.

How the Hula Girl Sings. Copyright © by Joe Meno. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Joe Meno is the best-selling author of the novels Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails, How the Hula Girl Sings, and Tender As Hellfire. He was the winner of the 2003 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction and is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.

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How the Hula Girl Sings 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book very quickly. I'm still not sure what was so captivating about it, but the story is just so different from anything else I've ever read. I think I just like Joe Meno's writing style, and found this one quite profound.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I really enjoy Joe Meno's writing style, there was nothing that kept me from wanting more. I think part of the problem was that I would keep comparing it to "Hairstyles of the Damned" (which I loved). Nonetheless, this book is entertaining but nothing I would consider an 'edge of your seat' book.
gecko721 More than 1 year ago
this is joe meno's second novel and the second of his i have read. i think joe meno is a wonderful story teller and can't wait to read his 3rd novel, hairstyles of the damned. i highly recommend this book and this author.
Asphyxiate More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what it was about this book that was so captivating, but it had me from the first page. This is one of only two books that I was actually able to read more than once.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow, this book just reached right into my chest, through my rib bones, and pierced my heart. I wanted Luce to be happy, and everytime some lowlife got in the way, I hoped he perservered even more than before. This book shows readers the cruelties of town life, and the escapades that ex-cons get from people on the 'outside'. So much symbolism (the bird, the car). By the middle of the first page, you can't out it down.