Monday, January 26, 2009

The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks - 311 pgs

In The Brightest Moon of the Century, readers meet endearing and affable Edward, a young man who is locked in a struggle with the world and his place in it. After the death of his mother, Edward's father places him in a private boys' academy, where, due to his lower economic status, he becomes the butt of jokes and pranks. As Edward navigates his way through his education with stoic resolve, he harbors secret fantasies of snagging an affectionate and lusty girlfriend and dreams of one day becoming a famous film director. Edward, navigating through the maze that is life, vacillates between the disappointment that his occasional failure brings and the tentative hope in his belief that he is coming closer and closer to his dreams. Edward's poignant sojourn through adolescence and adulthood is paved with endearing and touching moments, from his fumbling encounters with his first girlfriend to his flight from the nest. But Edward's life is far from typical as he eventually moves to Alabama with his best friend to run a mini-mart in a mobile home park, survives a catastrophic event, and begins to study film at a prestigious university. With each step, Edward comes one step closer to realizing his desires. Ultimately, Edward will see some of his dreams come true, but some must be sacrificed in the ever turning revolutions of fate.

This was a quiet yet very powerful piece of literature. In essence, Edward's story has hallmarks of similarity to many of our stories, but the way in which the author chose to portray this story made it both unique and stunning. Following Edward from childhood to middle age was like watching a beloved brother growing up alongside you. It wasn't only reading, it was sharing. Edward's feelings of insecurity and loneliness jumped off the page, touching me in a way that a character rarely does, and his successes made me smile with shared joy. I think the reason for this was the incomparable humanness and honesty of this character. He was completely believable and sympathetic, someone who you grew to know and love, whose joy becomes your own, and whose calamities compel you. This is a tremendous feat for an author. The ability to create the type of character who can reach out from the page and grab you by the hand is something that I find amazing. Edward's candor and reflection, his down-to-earth personality, was delightful and pleasing. Because, bottom line, Edward was a nice guy, the type of guy who is usually absent from the pages of books, a guy who is not filled with selfishness and egotism. He was someone whose complications arise from his situations and his reactions to them instead of his negative inner conflicts.

This is what I love about Meeks: his ability to gauge humanity, his understanding and acceptance of the strangeness and intricacies of life and personality, and his wonderful sense of compassion for his characters. In this author's gentle and capable hands we are free to enjoy the story he tells, knowing that while we will experience a great ride, we, and his characters will be looked after within the confines of his world. Additionally, the pacing of this story was wonderfully tight. I thought that the narrative made the most of its structure, holding on to the plot points just long enough to glean the most out of them, and then smoothly moving on to the next section. This story could have been lackluster and routine, but it certainly was not. I liked the way each chapter had a drive and destination to it, focusing on the main points while reaching back to retrieve information about the past. It was an elegant and efficient way to encapsulate many years into a manageable bite, and I appreciated the author's adept ability to create his narrative in a constructive and revealing way. The story never floundered and became trite; rather, it grew more involved and interesting as the layers became deeper.

The story's dialogue was expertly done as well. Sometimes it can be hard to convey emotion through the use of compelling dialogue but Meeks doesn't have a problem with this. His characters voices always ring true, and at times the emotion behind his words is not only captivating, but telling. Meeks made the most of his story and the most of Edward and his refreshing sincerity. By peeking into Edward's life we see a world that confuses, emboldens, and inspires. A world that can be unpredictable and diverse, but beautiful all the same. In this and all his work, Meeks shows us that the everyday can be extraordinary.

I have not read a book like this in a long time. Though at times bittersweet, the story and characters were so believable and real that I had trouble remembering that it was fiction. I got so quickly involved with Edward and his plight that I ceased to think of him as only the words on a page. To me he lived and breathed, he was someone I should know, someone I wanted to know. The story had a serene quality, a placid surface just bubbling with life underneath. This story would be perfect for someone who really wants to become involved with the characters in their reading, or someone who appreciates the outright unpredictability of life. I have no doubt that Edward and his quest for fulfillment will be loved by many. In one word, outstanding.

Also by Christopher Meeks: Months and Seasons.


Anonymous said...

I love stories that just utterly captivate and enthrall me. Lately I've been having issues of discordant/inauthentic narrators, so I completely understand how important that can be. It's almost like, even if it's fiction, you want the author to believe his story too!

Amy said...

This sounds like a fantastic book, and another one for my wishilst! I love getting wrapped up in books, even if I do hate to see them end. Thanks for your review!

Anonymous said...

"quiet but very powerful" ... what a great description!

I'll be reading this next month, so I only skimmed your review (so as not to color mine). *Months and Seasons* was fantastic (also powerful), and I'm looking forward to the writing in *Brightest Moon*

Chris Meeks does it again!

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