books & writing

Lisa reads: The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks

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About a year ago, I read Christopher Meeks’ collection of short stories, Months and Seasons, and I found myself swept up in the stories. When I got the opportunity to read his first novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century, I knew I was in for a treat. Edward is a pretty typical guy, but he manages to turn very ordinary experiences into an extraordinary story. The writing is exceptional, with interesting turns of phrase that left me laughing but nodding my head in agreement or commisseration.

This is how a life together ends. With a pork chop and then a click.

Edward is a bit of a drifter — he drifts through high school, he drifts through college. He knows he wants to make movies, but he doesn’t seem to have a clear picture of how to make that happen. We see snippets of Edward’s life — from high school to film school, from a trailer park in Alabama to the movie business. It’s a life that takes several very unexpected turns. He doesn’t always make the right call; in fact, he is often way off base, but I found his observations and his cluelessness funny and familiar. He’s looking for love, but things never seem to work out the way he plans.

“Do you speak Spanish?” she asked.
“Supermercado,” he said. “Escuela de bailar.”
She smiled. “And what are some words in Minnesotan?”
“Smorgasbord,” he said. “Beer. Live bait.”

In the beginning, Edward is a small-town kid, sent to a private high school that he hates. He lost his mother when he was very young and he and his father both feel her absence keenly. When his father begins to date (a younger woman in Earth shoes who argues politics with his father), it isn’t easy for him, but Beatrice becomes a friend. She seems more amused than anything else by his attempts to push her away and she shares enough of her past, which included a hippie wedding in the woods, to put Edward at ease.

My favorite part of the book is Edward’s time in Alabama, managing the convenience store in a trailer park. His father owns the park, Edward doesn’t have anything better to do after college and a fruitless few months trying to make it in the movie business, so he packs his car, picks up his best friend, Sagebrush, and heads for Alabama. Eastwind Estates is Peyton Place with double-wides a southern twang. Edward and Sagebrush really work hard at making the store a success and making friends with their neighbors. Edward’s biggest problem is Mandy — she is much younger than she appears and her daddy has a shotgun and isn’t afraid to use it. Mandy is only twelve years old but she knows what she wants: she wants Edward.

She glared at him in a way that chillingly reminded him of her father’s glare. “They’re plenty of guys who want me, but I been holdin’ ’em off for you. I’m what you call monotonous. A one-guy girl. You’ll be sorry now!”

He meets some great characters, inspires some kids to go to college, saves a stranger from a tornado and learns some ugly truths about business. He leaves his trailer in ruins and heads to Hollywood.

On the road beyond the trailer park headed south, Edward felt that while he was returning to Los Angeles with nothing to show for himself, he had gained much. His heart was a little larger for the people he had come to know and love.

Edward’s life takes more interesting turns at film school and in his movie career. He finds love and struggles to make it last. Throughout the story, Edward has his own take on things and he always made me smile. It was difficult for me to to sum up the book; the writing is excellent, the characters are charming and authentic, and I found myself thinking over and over “you really have to read it.” And I hope you will.

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