Joe is different. Sensitive and vulnerable, he is bullied by the local kids, he lives with his aging mother and the highlight of his year is playing the back-end of a horse in the local panto. Jim has no job. He also can’t drive, he’s never had a girlfriend and he’s just been released from prison.
When Jim returns home, an extraordinary friendship between the two outsiders begins. But when rumours of an unthinkable crime get out of control, Jim and Joe’s loyalties are put to the test.
A wonderful and utterly gripping coming-of-age story and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, Magnificent Joe is a funny and touching tale of the lengths we go to when everything we have is at stake.
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.