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The Successful Stew: A Short Story Master and the Novel (Review of "The Brightest Moon of the Century")
Date of Review: 
Grady Harp, Top Ten Reviewer

Christopher Meeks has produced up to now two of the finest, most intelligent, entertaining, and socially sensitive collections of short stories: THE MIDDLE-AGED MAN AND THE SEA and MONTHS AND SEASONS. For those of us who have become Meeks devotees based on these short stories, the anticipation of a full-length novel has been both exciting and a bit dubious. It is an entirely different challenge to carry a character and a few ideas, well developed as they are in Meeks's hands, along a path that justifies a complete novel. But with THE BRIGHTEST MOON OF THE CENTURY, Christopher Meeks has crossed that bridge so successfully that his stance in the echelon of new important American writers seems solidly secure.

Meeks deals well with the everyday persons that populate this novel. His characters are all flawed and not afraid to share those flaws. And that is one reason this story of a young lad's journey from Minnesota through the South and to California spanning the years of his life from age 14 to age 45 reaches out to the reader in a way that offers an honest invitation to relive our own growing years. Meeks does not discard his unique gift of crafting short stories: each chapter in this novel is framed by a time span and a special growing adventure in a way that at times the reader may wonder if each chapter could stand alone. But that is where Meeks so deftly shows his craft. He sorts through his bag of ideas, dropping a few here and there only to be picked up and transformed later in the book like old memories that come to blossom or gain meaning as life goes on.

Edward Meopian manages to cope with the loss of his mother, survives the changes that his encyclopedia salesman father imposes on him, an manages to leave home for private boys school where he gains some wisdom, some tolerance for the actions of his peers, some knowledge about his inappropriate preparation for puberty and love, fights his way through college discovering he has no talent for the “preferred discipline” of science, that he loves films, and discovers passion in a relationship that pushes the button to accelerate his maturity.

Things happen and things don't happen (Meeks has a way of adjusting his characters dreams and expectations with a sense of acknowledging personal flaws and humble talents). And as Edward's father re-marries, Edward gains possession of a mini-mart and trailer park in Alabama which he rules with his longtime pot smoking friend Sagebrush, all the while finding the idiosyncrasies of several women's wiles (avoiding the advances of under aged oversexed girls and the vitriol of a matronly trailer park manager). Shaky “failures” at marriage and screenwriting/directing dreams lead Edward through life changes that eventually result in his finding a touch of peace as a teacher in an arts school. Characters from his past weave through his present and the final touches of his life feel whole -- sort of....

At book's beginning the title is explained: during the last month of the century into which Edward was born would occur the brightest full moon “in terms of size and luminosity” of the century. And when Meeks brings us to the closing pages of his novel, Edward, transformed or at least tattered and worn by his life to that time, realizes that the year is 1999 and somewhere behind the clouds he sees that shining light of that promised moon. Meeks leaves us with a passel of memories of a common if extraordinarily interesting guy who just happens to mirror each of our flaws--and strengths. This is a fine novel, an engrossing story, and a group of indelible characters who linger in the mind long after novel's end. Meeks has done it again.