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The Brightest Moon of the Century
$17.94
Paperback
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • Mar.07.2009
  • 9780615249148
  • White Whisker Books

Christopher gives an overview of the book:

In Christopher Meeks's new book, The Brightest Moon of the Century, Edward, a young Minnesotan, is blessed with an abundance of "experience"--first when his mother dies and next when his father, an encyclopedia salesman, shoehorns Edward into a private boys school where he's tortured and groomed. 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. In nine chapters, the reader experiences Edward's life from ages 14 to 45.  This is the first novel from Christopher Meeks, which follows his highly acclaimed collections of short stories, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons.  Author and humorist Sandra Tsing...
Read full overview »

In Christopher Meeks's new book, The Brightest Moon of the Century, Edward, a young Minnesotan, is blessed with an abundance of "experience"--first when his mother dies and next when his father, an encyclopedia salesman, shoehorns Edward into a private boys school where he's tortured and groomed.

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.

In nine chapters, the reader experiences Edward's life from ages 14 to 45.  This is the first novel from Christopher Meeks, which follows his highly acclaimed collections of short stories, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons.  Author and humorist Sandra Tsing Loh has said, "Christopher Meeks's quirky stories are lyrical and wonderfully human. Enjoy." 

Carmela Ciuraru wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review of Meeks's first book, "This idea resonates throughout the collection: Meeks's characters seek happiness in the small things because they have no choice ... [The stories] are poignant and wise, sympathetic to the everyday struggles these characters face."

Read an excerpt »

The following scenes come from halfway in the book after Edward, twenty-five years old, has had such a hard time in Los Angeles that he goes to Alabama with his college friend Sagebrush to run a mini-mart in a trailer park. At this point, they've lived in the South for several months and moved into a double-wide trailer. It's 1979, and Hurricane Frederick is beating at Mobile, Alabama, south of Birmingham. Edward, Sagebrush, and friend Len have just taken an injured private plane pilot to the hospital amid lashing rain. They're outside.

~~

Turning at a strange sound, Edward looked out and saw what he hoped never to see in his life--a twisting, whirling, dirty black funnel, right out of Kansas and The Wizard of Oz. The undulating tip of the swirling tornado wasn't on the ground, but moving up and down as if it were trying to push through a glass floor and reach earth.

"Shit!" said Edward, and when Len saw it, they moved even faster inside.

"Hurricanes can make those things," yelled Len, as if that made it normal.

As the automatic sliding glass door behind them closed, a young doctor in green scrubs approached.

"Tornado!" shouted Len. "Get away from the windows!"

The doctor's eyes went wide, and there were shouts. Whether they were from patients or staff, Edward couldn't tell. One of the terrified screams was his own.

Edward could hear tapping against glass, with the tornado throwing things at the glass door and at windows. He and Len pushed Sagebrush around the corner, out of the way of any windows. The corridor was filling up with people, and some of them were tucked into a ball in a crouch, placing their left arms over their heads.

Edward felt an instant déjà vu and then remembered the arm-over-the-head thing from when he was in first grade. It had been after the Soviet Union had the bomb, and, as he learned later, everyone thought a Soviet nuking was survivable. Kids were taught to "duck and cover" if they saw a bright flash, bringing their non-writing arms over their heads. This, Edward now supposed, was because if your non-writing arm was melted onto your head, you could still write with your other hand. You would still have to go to school.

Wedged next to Edward, Sagebrush said, "Maybe coming South wasn't such a good idea."

"Maybe you're right."

Then the sound of a freight train came, as if a one-hundred-car convoy was going to slam right into them. The lights flickered and smothered out, the floor seemed to shake, and the sounds of glass breaking filled the air. Edward imagined the whole building caving in on itself, and he'd be either crushed by steel beams and concrete or else sucked into the tornado and spit off toward the ground. He could feel the wind. It was coming for him. Neither he nor anyone shouted or cried, as if they all held their breath and listened to the train and their last heart beats. Then the train sounds diminished. The wind stopped, but the rain could still be heard, better than ever.

"Must have gone over us," said Len.

"Yes," said Edward. The lights returned.

"I see our emergency generator has kicked in," said the doctor, who was still near them.

Sagebrush turned to Len on the other side of him. "Glad we had you along, Len. I think you saved that guy's life."

"What d'ya mean? I didn't do nothin'."

"Francie's lucky to have you."

"'Preciate that," said Len. He patted Sagebrush's shoulder.

"If you want to go home, you don't have to stay," said Sage­brush.

"You kiddin' me?" said Len. "It's a lot safer here than in any trailer park. I got Francie to go to her parents' place. They have a house with a basement. I told her I'd be comin', but I'll wait it out here with you guys, if you don't mind."

"What do you think the other people in the trailer park are do­ing?"

"Some are fools and staying in, but others are in the com­munity center. It was built to be a storm shelter."

"We can't stay here in the hallway," said Edward.

"The waiting room," said Len.

Edward nodded. However, when they stepped into the waiting area, the place didn't have a single open seat, filled with the victims from the storm. Some, they learned, were hurt by an earlier tornado--two funnels had touched down in the area, they heard-and other people were hurt from such things as falling trees and skidding cars.

Len, Edward, and Sagebrush found that the waiting room for expectant fathers in the birthing wing was quiet and unused. They turned out the lights so they could sleep on the chairs until morning.

Around six a.m., Edward awoke to Len gently shaking him. "I'm goin' now," said Len. It's just drizzlin' outside. I'm goin' to find my wife, so I'll see ya later, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," said Edward. He could see Sagebrush was still asleep, so Edward closed his eyes and slept fitfully for another hour. He dreamed they were back in their trailer, bonging in the living room, when the walls started pushing in on them to squish them. They ran out onto the deck in the nick of time, but the deck was now made of metal planks that were electrified, and they danced in response to being shocked terribly. They leapt from the deck onto the lawn, but the lawn was made of quicksand, and they sank into it. They couldn't get out. Sagebrush shouted, "We should get out of here!" and Edward said, "Duh." That's when Edward awoke to hear, again, "Time we should get out of here, don't you think?" Sagebrush stood before him.

"Yeah, I guess so," said Edward, who rubbed his eyes.

They found the Volvo still parked under the breezeway in Emergency. None of the car's windows were broken. There was a part of a 7-11 sign on the ground, as well as a Barbie doll and a paperback book. Edward was curious at the title of the book, and he walked over. It was As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Edward nodded as if it couldn't be any other title. Earth was a weird place.

As they drove slowly back toward the park, they came across few other cars or people in the streets, as if everyone was asleep or dead. His wipers were on low but squeaked because it was misting rather than raining. The gray of the morning hung over the clutter on the roadway, mostly leaves and sticks. As they neared the park, Edward could see that there was a swath of trees missing to the left of the park's entrance, as if a huge scythe had come by.

"Oh, man," said Sagebrush, but neither said anything more as they drove ahead. At the park's entrance, two police cars blocked the driveway, their red and blue lights twirling.

"Do you live here?" an officer in a slick yellow raincoat asked.

"Yes, we do," said Edward.

"We're here to prevent looting. There's tornado damage on the north side of the park."

"We're on the north side."

"We'll let you in if you don't mind an officer accompanying you. And if your home is one of the ones affected, you can't take anything now, but you can come back later today once the National Guard arrives."

"It's that major?"

"I hear President Carter will be flying to Mobile tomorrow. It's a lot worse down there. The top of Mobile City Hall blew off. Imagine what you'll see in this park multiplied down there by a whole city."

A policeman with a thick handlebar mustache and yellow rain­coat opened the rear door of the Volvo and entered. "Hey, guys," he said.

"Hey," they returned.

As they drove ahead, at first everything seemed normal. Then trees here and there were down. To the far left, beyond the community center, there were no trailers or trees, just what seemed to be multicolored bits-probably paper, aluminum, bricks, tree parts, and more. It reminded Edward of the end of the movie Woodstock where, a day after the historical concert, trash was everywhere, and yellow Caterpillar bulldozers shoved it into heaps to the sounds of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song, "Long Time Gone."

"Anyone die here?" Edward asked the officer in the back, not really wanting to hear.

"Not that we know of. Don't ask me how we're so lucky. Weirdest damn storm." Edward looked at him more closely in the rear view mirror and saw he was an older guy, salt and pepper sideburns, in a yellow rain slicker.

As they turned a corner, Edward could see the mini-mart was mostly rubble. They no longer had a store. Huge chunks of beige-colored washers and dryers from his store's building lay around, pieces for a junkyard.

"I guess we don't have to worry about marketing any more," said Sagebrush.

Across the way, their home wasn't as bad. There was no wood shingle roof anymore, just the aluminum one underneath, and most of their kitchen was gone, but so was the airplane. Edward could see the airplane lay crumpled and crushed up between two trees. All the trees behind their house in the forest seemed to be still standing, as if the tornado jumped after it made mincemeat of several trailers and then the store. Still, while their home was likely salvageable, he felt tight all over with the recognition his life here was over.

"That's your place?" said the officer in the back.

"Yep," said Edward.

"I guess our days our numbered here," said Sagebrush.

"Guess so."

They each opened their doors and stood, as if not being behind glass anymore made it more real. At Edward's feet was a rectangular plastic bag of something wheat colored. He bent down and lifted it up. Dried blackeyed peas. Southern dried.

"You boys can come back later this afternoon and see what you can salvage," said the officer.

"Mind if we walk around first?" asked Edward.

"Go ahead," said the officer. "Must be hard to see."

"It is, sir," said Edward.

As Edward walked toward his house, he saw Angie with a 35mm camera kneeling on the ground, trying to include a large busted-up washing machine in the foreground with his house and the airplane behind it.

"Angie," said Edward. "Glad to see you're all right."

"Thanks! Sorry about your house, Mr. My-opyan!"

"It's not as bad as some others, I can see. How's your place?"

"A little banged up from things flyin' into it is all. We're fine." Edward considered how the people in the park, more than any group he'd met in his life, never seemed surprised. They took life simply as it came. Angie, here, would probably be a mother in another couple of years. She looked through her viewfinder at him, adjusted herself as if trying for the perfect angle, and clicked a shot. "That's a good un," she said, looking at him in a way he'd never noticed before.

"Yeah?" he said. "Nice camera."

"My uncle's. He's a photographer for the paper. He's been teachin' me how to use a darkroom, too. Want me to teach you sometime? It's real fun."

"We probably won't be around much longer. Things have changed."

"Aw! You should stay here! You can't leave us all!"

Sagebrush stepped in and said to Edward, "I think the cop wants to get back."

Edward paused and looked at the girl once more. "Have a good life, Angie," he said.

"You, too, Edward." He noted that was the first time she had ever used his first name.

When they got back to the car, the officer said, "Are you okay?"

"I'm a little sad."

"Yep," said the man.

"Failure seems to follow me around," said Edward.

"You're no failure, son," said the officer, and Edward turned to face him. "This is God," said the man. "Or the disorder of life, if you like. This is what we all have to live with."

The man gazed around, apparently in awe of all he saw. Edward looked around again, seeing things a little differently now. He thought of the roar he had heard of the approaching tornado and imagined what it must have been like to be here, wind that could pummel washing machines into graffiti yet retain the grace to save the plane.

The power of all that had happened in the park, where a soul wasn't hurt, washed over him. Whether you called it nature or God, this brutal beauty, this chaos and kindness, was often normal.

christopher-meeks's picture

Ask for it at your bookstore or click on the Amazon link below. For a signed copy, call Vroman's Bookstore at (626) 449-5320 or email them at email@vromansbookstore.com.

About Christopher

Christopher Meeks writes short fiction and novels. His book of short stories, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea earned great reviews including the Los Angeles Times ("poignant and wise") and a blurb in Entertainment Weekly that said, "A...

Read full bio »

Published Reviews

Jul.30.2008

For those readers fortunate enough to have read Christopher Meeks’ first short story collection - THE MIDDLE-AGED MAN AND THE SEA - and discovered the idiosyncrasies of Meeks’ writing style and content,...

Jul.30.2008

In high school, I discovered Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and Raymond Carver.  I subsequently realized I was a lover of short story fiction.  As a collection of short stories, Christopher Meeks...