The Brightest Moon of the Century, by Christopher Meeks
In The Brightest Moon of the Century, Christopher Meeks captures the embarrassments, flashes of joy, and moments of panic that make up everyday life. His central character, Edward, is reassuringly normal. As a teenager, he worries about girls. As a university student, he worries about his future. As as adult, he worries about his family. Throughout it all, Meeks uses Edward’s worries and internal dialogue as a focus to show the possibilities found in small moments: in sunrises, in friendships, in apparent disaster. Unpretentious and deeply human, the normalcy and everyman nature of the novel give it its power. These vignettes do not tell of an unattainable hero or indescribable villain; instead, here is a tale of first girlfriends, college buddies, working life, and family dynamics.
We first enter Edward’s life at the most humiliating of times, adolescence. Recently forced to attend the posh private school across town, he feels out of place among the richer and seemingly all knowing boys. Without the right tie, the right friends, or the right family, he is lost and feeling attacked. Luckily, Edward’s despair is often the reader’s entertainment, as a tightly wrapped ACE bandage demonstrates:
Oh, great. He probably had gangrene, too, and maybe more would be chopped off than just a hand. Was God toying with him like a mouse? No, God was the mouse. That left him to be what? Cheese. He hated being cheese.
Edward’s voice is strong, clear, and panicked through most of the book. He rarely feels socially confident, and his reactions to his own uncertainty lead him to make some very interesting decisions and create several moments where it is nearly impossible not to laugh out loud. Sometimes, watching a character swing from one moment of panic to the next is tiring and ultimately off-putting, but Meeks deftly achieves a balance between Edward’s honest, occasionally hilarious, reactions to his screwups and his deeper responses to the real tragedies that occur in his life. Although there is not a lot of downtime in the book, the writing never feels overwrought. At least partially, this is a result of Meeks crafting each chapter in such a way that the white space between them feels like part of the story. The reader does not tire of Edward’s internal struggles because, although never directly stated, there is an implication of years when all is well and life is calm.
These stories are unlike a typical novel in other ways. While the plot and actions may dominate and drive a typical novel, Meeks has shifted the focus here to what Edward is feeling. It is Edward’s reactions that are important. Even a tornado that destroys his double-wide becomes secondary to his internal musings afterwards:
He thought of the roar he had heard of the approaching tornado and imagined what it must have been like to be here, wind that could pummel washing machines into graffiti yet retain the grace to save the plane. The power of all that had happened in the park, where a soul wasn’t hurt, washed over him. Whether you call it nature or God, this brutal beauty, this chaos and kindness, was often normal.
We are not seeing a tale of Edward’s life, we are hearing what he thought about his life as it happens. This focus on introspection is what pins the story together into more than a series of vignettes. No matter where Edward is, or what his age may be, his talent for both engineering frustrating, socially awkward situations and learning from them makes him supremely sympathetic. Though the life he lives is far from perfect, he remains optimistic and determined. When he drives his first girlfriend away, loses his minimart to a tornado, or becomes distant from his wife, these experiences become part of a continuous bridge of moments that link the Edward of adolescence to the one who exists, still striving and hopeful, on the final page.