Friday, March 5, 2010

The Brightest Moon of the Century (Christopher Meeks)

One of my old professors wrote this book, so I read it and wrote a review for a class I'm taking.

Synopsis

Transitions in life can be very difficult, be it as a student in transition from high school to college, an actor making the move from television to film, or, as is the case with Christopher Meeks, a dramatist and short story author publishing his first novel. With two collections and three full-length plays under his belt, the Los Angeles-based Meeks tries to make this jump with his latest book, The Brightest Moon of the Century, a work teeming with vivid characters making their own transitions.

Shifting deftly between locations as disparate as suburban Minnesota, the hills of Los Angeles, and a trailer park in Alabama, The Brightest Moon of the Century tells the story of Edward Meopian as he tries to survive all of the major transitions in his life: first love; college; post-graduate ennui; marriage; and, ultimately, fatherhood. Edward can’t seem to find himself, and goes searching wherever he can afford, determined to prove that he was meant for something more than his humble Midwestern origins.

The book is told in third person via a series of vignette-like chapters, prominently recalling the author’s roots as a short-story writer. Each chapter takes place in its own unique setting, foregoing much of the transitional writing that might normally be required in a book that spans the three decades covered in The Brightest Moon. His prior writing experience continues to shine through as Meeks focuses intently on each individual scene and the humanness of the interactions between his characters, something he undoubtedly picked up from his stage work.

Edward, often unsure of himself, continually finds himself butting up against friends, authority figures, and, occasionally, over-sexed Southern teenagers. Meeks is sometimes sparse on illustrative details, but never fails to adequately describe the many women that come in and out of Edward’s life, a fact that aids in establishing the importance of female acceptance after the death of Edward’s mother in the opening pages. The transition that the Meopian family is forced to undergo following this tragedy is one of the book’s earliest and longest-running themes.

Another theme that Meeks subtly weaves throughout his otherwise bluntly emotional narrative—Edward tends to cry a lot—regards another type of transition, that of the moon between phases. In the early chapters, the moon is usually presented in its crescent or gibbous form, but over the course of the novel moves, along with Edward, to a fuller and more complete state. That’s not to say that The Brightest Moon of the Century is all happy endings and wonderfully uplifting messages. It’s not. Most of the book focuses on the terrible things that Edward can’t control in his life but must learn to accept. It’s with the help of symbols like these, though, that he and the reader are able to move forward together along a path with seemingly no fixed destination.

There are a few dull spots, primarily in the first few chapters, and the voice evokes the idea of a short story narrator much more strongly than is necessary, but, for the most part, The Brightest Moon of the Century is a rather compelling novel. The language is stiff at times, but the confrontations are visceral and Meeks has a way of injecting suspense into everyday circumstances. There are places where he is able to seamlessly transition from an exultant tone to a sense of utter dread in less than a page, and while the read is often better for it, the same can’t always be said for Edward. His many failures and realistic experiences with love ground him in this world, and make him a character that the reader can’t help growing alongside. It may not be the most polished work, but Christopher Meeks’ The Brightest Moon of the Century is a commendable first novel and a successful transition from the world of short stories and playwriting.

Rating

The Brightest Moon of the Century
by Christopher Meeks

Story—6.77
Nothing groundbreaking, but it definitely keeps your interest.

Style—7.1
I like how the book is broken up. It follows Edward for several decades, and succeeds in showing his growth as a person.

General—7.5
This isn't the best-written book I've come across, but I found myself enjoying it nonetheless. It has a touch of sincerity that I thought was charming and that kept me grounded. It makes me interested to check out Meeks' short stories.

Overall—7.12



Keep reading, Genoshans!

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