Recently published March 7, 2009 by White Whisker Books
Having read and loved Christopher Meeks’s short stories, I had high hopes for this debut novel, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Presented as a collection of nine stories that follow Edward Meopian from his awkward teenage years well into adulthood (ages 14 to 45, to be exact), The Brightest Moon of the Century is, at turns, hilarious, heartbreaking, and hopeful.
I loved this book from the opening pages. The characters are real and recognizable in a way that few authors are able to capture. Meeks sees their humanity and presents them, warts and all, with great sympathy and understanding. And I loved the narrator’s voice and his understanding of Edward’s experiences. Take this description of 14-year-old Edward, for instance:
At Eastbrook Junior High School, Edward Meopian was not a wallflower but more like a hearty, imperceptible weed…he came across to most people, certainly to himself, as something of an ottoman or sofa: existing and acceptable.
When Edward transfers to a private school, his self-consciousness and concerns about making a good impression and fitting in with his more affluent peers are spot-on and exemplary of the worries all teens face in some form. When he finally gets a girlfriend, his awkard combination of earnestness and teenage boy horniness lead him to tell his girlfriend, who he’s brought to a drive-in movie on a very cold night,
We’ve been going steady for almost three seasons now…because I love you, I want to show you. Maybe we could do more than kiss.
I would contend that all of us who have been teenage girls have been on the receiving end of some version of the “I love you so much, I want to express it (so let’s have sex)” speech, and more men than want to admit it have given this speech. It is one of the universal hallmarks of adolescence and dating, and Meeks captures the moment–and its fallout—in all of its painfully awkward glory. Here is an author whose children will never be able to accuse him of not remembering what it’s like to be a teenager. He’ll need only to point to this passage as proof.
As Edward graduates from high school and leaves his Minnesota home for college in Colorado, we share his sense that the future is waiting, and when it turns out to be not quite what he was expecting, we share his disappointment and confusion. We see him search for direction, friendship, and love, and we pull for him as he fumbles his way through his first real relationship.
Edward’s college years are filled with disappointments, but he never gives up hope, and he never loses focus on his dream of becoming a film director. Immediately after graduation, he moves to Los Angeles, where he takes a job at a camera shop to help him get by while he figures out how to make his dream come true. After working for two years and making exactly zero progress toward his filmmaking goal, Edward accepts his father’s offer to move to a trailer park in Alabama and run a mini-mart. He talks his friend Sagebrush into going with him, and chaos (and hilarity) ensue.
Edward learns a lot about life and love from the folks who live in the trailer park. He is impressed by their resilience, their ability to cope with whatever comes at them, and he is inspired to get his life back on track. I loved the section of the book focusing on Edward’s experiences in Alabama because the characters are colorful and complex and, as is becoming Meeks’s calling card, fully recognizable and believable. They are quirky and strange. They struggle to make sense of their lives and relationships. And they just keep on going.
When Edward eventually finds his way back to Los Angeles, he finds a new life and—finally—someone to love who loves him in return. He learns that “sometimes things happened that you’d hoped for.” But, of course, adulthood and marriage also have their disappointments, and life isn’t all sunshine and roses.
With great clarity, and insight, Meeks captures Edward’s adolescent awkwardness and adult pain with equal skill and grace. He explores the full spectrum of human emotion, from the intoxication of first love to the devasation of heartbreak, and he takes Edward from the teenage crisis of identity to the middle-aged search for meaning. As one of his characters realizes,
Beneath all the entertainment in our lives was the fear and wonder of our stay on this planet.
This idea is the heart and soul of The Brightest Moon of the Century, and Meeks’s uniquely keen ability to find the beauty in all of life’s moments makes this a book not to be missed. 4.5 out of 5.
Special thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this fantastic book.