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Posted September 2, 2008
This is Christopher Meeks second book of short stories and I'm now sorry that I haven't read his first, which is an award winning collection. I read these 11 stories through the first time for pleasure and it was that. I like them a lot. The characters here, whether humourous, tragic, or mildly absurd are likeable, believable, and not always predictable. Like ordinary people, but with quirks that make them memorable. I haven't had a collection of short stories stay with me as vividly for quite some time. Even better, when I looked back through them I realized that there's not a weak one in the bunch. The author clearly edited himself, choosing and arranging this group of stories carefully. I've always preferred longer short stories so I wasn't surprised that 'The Sun is a Billard Ball' at 32 pages in length would appeal to me. Or the 25 page 'Breaking Water'. But even 'Catalina' at only 3 pages is a solid and emotionally powerful account of a man's unexpressed grief . I read it several times because what the author doesn't say is as telling as what he does. This is the sign of a good writer. In the first of these three stories, the uncertainties and fears of impending illness and diagnosis are palpable, the tension is familiar and real. In the third a Greek American man, advised by an acquaintance to spend the day on Catalina Island, is angry and judgmental until 'he is surprised to see that the dry hills leaping from the water were like the Chora Sfakion in Crete. His friend must have known.' There's a wide range in age and emotional experience of his characters. Whether it's a seven year old who's afraid of water in the more lyrical 'The Wind Just Right' or a seventy-eight year old playwright losing his home and life's work to wildfires in 'The Old Topanga Incident', Meeks is capable of seeing and writing from very different perspectives. He shows great versitility too by writing in the voice that most suits each story. His use of the first person singular for the main character of 'The Holes In My Door' lets us into the depression and obsessive fears of this recently seperated man who's slipping into paranoid behaviour. Any other perspective would not have had the same power. The use of the second person in the 'Topango' story work well too. 'You open the door' to shouting firemen,'you run down two flights of stairs', 'you grab the play, the only copy', 'you wonder whether you can make it through this'. The urgency and loss are keenly felt by the reader, it's perfect. I especially enjoyed the title story 'Months and Seasons'. The main character is determined that the love of his life will have the name of one of the months or seasons of the year. He won't even date someone who doesn't fit the bill. This tale about putting limits on our own fate is touching and funny. When a woman at a party introduces herself as 'August' I laughed out loud. Meeks creates believable female characters too as in the final story 'Breaking Water', where a model must reshape her entire life after heart surgery. Her inability to get pregnant causes her husband to abandon her, but not until after she has recovered from surgery. He doesn't want to look bad after all. We are rooting for her at every new turn in her life. This is a great collection of stories that I look forward to reading again. Highly recommended. There's icing on the cake here too with 'The Hand', an excerpt from 'The Brightest Moon of the Century' at the end of the book. This novel in the form of related short stories will cover 30 years in the life of a young Minnesotan named Edward. The first of these stories made me want to know more about what happens to Edward. Given this writer's gifted sense of storytelling, I expect this new book will be a winner too.
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Posted May 25, 2008
For those readers fortunate enough to have read Christopher Meeks' first short story collection - THE MIDDLE-AGED MAN AND THE SEA - and discovered the idiosyncrasies of Meeks' writing style and content, rest assured that this new collection - MONTHS AND SEASONS - not only will not disappoint, but also it will provide further proof that we have a superior writer of the genre in our presence! Meeks is an observer of the human condition, and that does not mean his view is lopsided or focused on only one realm of characters. True, he does create characters that have strangely vulnerable aspects that alter the way they interact with those around them. But in the end, these are people we pass in the street or sit next to on the bus, or notice in the strange places of Southern California like malls, funky parties - or just 'around' the neighborhood or cities. But his strange creations have just the right amount of 'normalcy' that in our eyes could make them part of the unnoticed woodwork: in Meeks' eyes (and pen) they become extraordinary seeds for terrific stories. In the opening story 'Dracula Slinks into the Night' a dysfunctional couple attends a silly Halloween party where the husband's aversion to dancing leads to a fall that oddly mutates the couple's differences. 'Why not dance?' Meeks writes, 'We're merely blobs of water and minerals procreating to create what? It was a world run over with gas-guzzlers and pollution and cattle prods for semen.' In 'The Sun is a Billiard Ball' we watch the interaction of two couples' lives: one couple is dealing with the husband's discovery of bloody stools while the other couple is facing the spectre of HIV testing, and the manner in which their lives intersect is one of the examples of the Chaos Theory. In 'The Holes in My Door' a recently 'separated' man finds gunshot holes in his garage door and reacts by investing in his own gun and shoots himself in the foot - much the way his bonding with his ex-wife (an obsession that colors all of his thoughts) was punctured by his own behavior. There are other stories of infidelity and the remorse of cheating and regretting. The title story concerns movie extras and their cruising. Cody, the lead character, is looking for the perfect match (such as girls with names like Summer or May). 'Cody believed in belief. He was like the late Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard, except he was working in America on a movie set with giant power cables and topless women. He and Soren were awed by faith. Cody couldn't explain why he believed names were important, for example, but they were. He just knew. There were things beyond science'. In 'The Wind Just Right' Meeks dives into a mother/daughter relationship that has more similarities in fears and phobias than either understands. In 'Breaking Water' we meet fashion model Merrill, post op for obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that changes her career options, but delivers other opportunities. ''We're just 'beings toward death', right? Martin Heidegger said we're all looking for an authentic life before the inevitable happens. We're supposed to face death and have a healthy anxiety towards it'.' In excerpting little passages from this book this reader hopes to convey the spectrum of experience gained from reading Christopher Meeks. He writes with a blend of hilarious humor, significant angst, philosophical bents in the manner many people inhabit 'beliefs' to continue their lives in this somewhat discombobulated world, and offers us fresh views of ordinary people whose lives for even a few moments become extraordinary. Other readers will find personal favorite stories and passages - it is that kind of book, one that has little chunks of life to which we call all relate and find both kindred spirits and avoidable folks with suggestions on how to cope with them. There
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