Back of the book blurb: Edward needs a place in the universe, but he wants an understanding of women. He stumbles into romance in high school, careens through dorm life in college, whirls into a tornado of love problems as a mini-mart owner in a trailer park in Alabama, and aims for a film career in Los Angeles. Will his love for a Latina prove to be the one? In nine chapters, the reader experiences Edward’s life from ages 14 to 45.
She is Too Fond of Books’ Review: With The Brightest Moon of the Century, Christopher Meeks demonstrates a smooth transition from a short fiction writer (I reviewed his collection Months and Seasons here) to a writer of novels. I don’t believe every writer can pull this off, but Meeks has the talent to carry his quirky characters and their “find the extraordinary in the everyday” plots into a full-length novel. Each of the nine chapters is so thoroughly flushed with details that it could stand alone as a lengthy story, but that would leave the reader wanting MORE, which Meeks provides by giving the stories the respect they deserve and packaging them as a novel.
As we saw in his short stories, Meeks has an discerning eye for pulling nuggets of brilliance out of day-to-day life. Thus, Edward’s difficulty knotting a tie becomes a window into the observations of a 14-year-old thrust into situations beyond his control, both large (the death of his mother) and relatively small (preparation for his first day at a private school, to which he is transferring, at his father’s insistence). The knot is, perhaps, a metaphor for the emotions he is battling:
Tie tying, Edward had observed, started with the tie around the neck, so that the thin part and the fat part stood side-by-side on one’s chest like Olive Oyl and Bluto. The fat part was supposed to hang down farther than the thin part. Then in a flurry of crossing and flipping, a knot was made. This was done always so fast, Edward couldn’t follow what happened, so now, in front of the mirror, he experimented. He came up with knots, but only things that Boy Scouts might be proud of. None of them would slip to allow him to move the knot toward his neck.
The nine chapters are arranged chronologically and given not only a title, but also a subtitled date, which immediately allows the reader to place Edward’s age and stage of life. The beginning of each chapter is enhanced with a vintage black and white photo taken by the author himself. Think how the photos in Water for Elephants give you a visual cue to carry along with the text; it’s a beautiful accent, and I imagine Meeks must have had fun going through his collection to find photos that fit the novel.
Here is one from the second part of “Orange Crush” (Spring Quarter 1974) as Edward settles into a dorm and university life. In this chapter, concerns about connecting with a woman take precedence over concerns for his schoolwork. Edward is a sensitive and fair character. Unlike many of his classmates, happy to connect for only one night, Edward searches for a special woman. I wonder if this constant quest is a result of losing his mother so young.
This photo is from “Hi Jolly” (Summer 1979). Without giving away the plot, I’ll share that Edward has moved to Alabama to manage a mini-mart on the outskirts of a trailer park. Ever the idealist, his visions of 7-Eleven style uniformity contrast the cliched reality of life at Eastwind.
Edward is a delightful character; he’s sensitive and creative … I wish he were my brother! Perhaps his biggest flaw is the self-doubt that runs through each chapter; in other words, he shows his human side. Edward is endearingly real, and readers will be rooting for him in every situation. The Brightest Moon of the Century will appeal to readers across genders and generations.
Time-sensitive info: Christopher Meeks will be reading from The Brightest Moon of the Centuryat Vroman’s (695 East Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA) on March 7, 2009 at 5pm. Also, his play, Who Lives is being produced by the Pico Playhouse (10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles) March 12 – 29, 2009. Unfortunately, I’m on the other side of the country, but I’d love to hear from anyone who attends either event!