I connected with Christopher Meeks when he responded to a post I wrote about the difficulty my book group has had discussing short stories; he wrote an excellent guest post which offered several suggestions on how to approach a short fiction collection, including the proposal that there might be a theme of sorts running through the stories. He says that “short story collections as a whole should be thought of as concept rock albums … some stories are lighter than others, and, as in a good album or concert, the reader’s emotions should be like [a] roller coaster … ups and downs, and the loop is a surprise.”
Christopher offered me a review copy of his latest collection, Months and Seasons. I gladly accepted, eager to approach short stories with an enlightened eye! This is a group of eleven short fiction pieces “about time – narratives of different people at different ages.”
His simile to a roller coaster is apt here; some of the stories gently unfold, others surprise with their twists and turns. The work is quite varied in style, but consistent in its high quality. I was reminded of Roald Dahl’s short pieces when I read “The Farms at 93rd and Broadway”, about an older couple who unexpectedly attend a hypnosis demonstration instead of the Broadway show they had set out to see; by the end of the piece I was wondering which character was showing signs of senility and which was bluffing.
Some pieces are heavy on dialogue, others rely more on detailed narration. “The Holes in My Door” begins as a piece about a man suffering from depression more than a year after his wife has left him. Meeks deftly tells the tale in the first person, as the unnamed narrator slips deeper and deeper into paranoia: “I heard noises outside each night, things I had never noticed from my room before – an odd, loud cawing for instance. Couldn’t be a bird - few birds are active at night. Must be a robber calling to his cohort …”
At the young end of the age spectrum is a 7-year-old girl at camp, afraid of getting in the lake for swim lessons. At the opposite end is a 78-year old man and his experience of “The Old Topanga Incident.” This story is based on a ravaging fire that consumed over 16,000 acres in November 1993; it is gripping not only because of the way Meeks tells of the force of nature that is the Santa Ana winds fueling the fire, but also because of the urgency expressed by the point of view Meeks chooses. “The Old Topanga Incident” is told as if the narrator is telling it to you, not you-the-reader, but you-the-protagonist, as you watch all your worldly, and highly-prized, possessions, burn to ash:
You open the door and you see a number of things simultaneously: two firemen in bright yellow rubberized coats stand before you, shouting, “You’ve got to get out now!” Two hundred yards up the hill is a wall of flame, and the house of the svelte woman with the dog burns brightly as if it were made of gasoline. Flames shoot high. Embers the size of your fist land in the juniper and cypress trees in your yard, on your car, in the driveway.
The end of Months and Seasons offers a “bonus track”, a story from his upcoming collection The Brightest Moon of the Century. Each of the stories in the book center around the character Edward, parceling out bits and pieces of his life over a thirty-year period. “The Hand” is the first story in this upcoming group, which will culminate as a “novel-in-stories” a la Melissa Bank’s The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
For a sneak peek at the “ups and downs,” written about in Months and Seasons, watch this YouTube video of an actor-read excerpt from the story “Whiskers”, introduced by Meeks. His work has appeared in Rosebud and Clackamas Literary Review as well as other literary journals. A previous collection, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea was published in 2005. Learn more by visiting the author’s website or subscribing to his blog. Climb aboard the roller coaster that is Months and Seasons; the ride will stay with you for a while!