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Description of The Brightest Moon of the Century:
In his fourth award-winning book, Christopher Meeks offers a comic and compassionate coming-of-age novel. A young Minnesotan, Edward, is blessed with an abundance of “experience”–first when his mother dies and next when his father, an encyclopedia salesman, shoehorns Edward into a private boys school where he’s tortured and groomed. He needs a place in the universe, but he wants an understanding of women.
“A truly great novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving.” –Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews
“In his debut novel, ‘The Brightest Moon of the Century,’ Christopher Meeks chronicles one man’s path to middle age and, in doing so, illustrates how choices and circumstances — even those that seem arbitrary at the time — have a way of irrevocably cementing a person’s future.” -Cherie Parker, Minnneapolis Star Tribune
“Charming and endlessly entertaining, ‘The Brightest Moon of the Century’ is a fine read that is an excellent addition to literary fiction collections.” -Midwest Book Review
“Edward is endearingly real, and readers will be rooting for him in every situation. ‘The Brightest Moon of the Century’ will appeal to readers across genders and generations.” -Dawn Rennert, She Is Too Fond of Books
The Brightest Moon of the Century currently has a customer review rating of 4.1 stars with 21 reviews! Read the reviewshere.
The Brightest Moon of the Century is available to purchase at:
An excerpt from The Brightest Moon of the Century:
Near mid-century when Edward was born, the full moon was years from being the brightest. That would happen—in terms of luminosity and size—in the last month of the century. As a child growing up, however, Edward found much splendor and mystery in the moon. It kept changing and following him around, a rock with its own rhythms, much like girls, and he knew he was years away from understanding girls.
Now in eighth grade with his mother gone, Edward felt he’d finally done something right. His father, Stanley, stood at the kitchen sink reading one of Edward’s English papers. Edward smiled, waiting for his father to see the letter grade of “A” at the end.
“What’s this quote?” asked his father, who then read the quoted line aloud. “‘The moon on the river looked like a dented hubcap floating on a cesspool. I hated rivers, and my grandfather, Elihu Twain, hated them, too.’ You say this is from Mark Twain. Where’d you find this quote?” The man frowned.
“I don’t know,” Edward said. He had to pause his breakfast spoon in mid-flight, knowing his cornflakes, bathing in the bowl’s milk, were about to turn into corn mush. “The encyclopedia?”
“Don’t you know that there were no hubcaps in those days? And Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens, so his grandfather would be named Clemens, for crissakes, not Twain. And Mark Twain, for your information, had been a steamboat pilot, and he loved rivers—compared them to pearls and opals! Where did you get this quote?”
“I was running out of time, so I had to— I mean—”
“You made it up, didn’t you?”
“It was due,” Edward said. “And I still got an ‘A’.”
“I didn’t raise you to be a cheater.”
“She mostly just wanted to see that we can write an essay, and—”
“It’s not even that great of an essay,” said his father.
“You’re always harping on grades so—”
“Don’t you blame this on me.”
“It’s a good grade. What’re we arguing about?” Edward stood, turning to the sink with his bowl.
“And what kind of English teacher couldn’t catch such a thing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Education is the asphalt for the road of life.”
“The point is next fall you’re not going to that waste dump of a school.”
“Because of one lousy high-graded paper? Come on!” Edward dumped his now-soggy cereal down the garbage disposal.
His father shook his head. “I’ve been thinking about this awhile. I want you to have more opportunity than I had. You don’t want to be an encyclopedia salesman, do you? I want you to go to McCory.”
“But I love where I’m at! It’s good asphalt.”
The fact was Edward did not love his school, but no one bothered him there. At Eastbrook Junior High School, Edward Meopian was not a wallflower but more like a hearty, imperceptible weed. The girls looked through him, the guys he passed in the hallway nodded once in a while, and the teachers didn’t find him distracted or daydreaming so did not pounce on him. He was not someone who was teased, for he wasn’t nerdy or outwardly vulnerable. Rather, he came across to most people, certainly to himself, as something of an ottoman or sofa: existing and acceptable. His grades were just above average—not good enough for the jocks to ask him if it was okay to copy his homework. If he were to become a mass murderer down the road, no one would know him well enough to tell the blond TV interviewer, “Yeah, I knew him in junior high, and he was so friendly. Who knew he could turn people’s pelvis bones into ash trays?”
Rather, he was “Edward Who?”
On Saturday morning two weeks later, his father drove Edward to the McCory School to take the entrance exam. The high-class private school for boys was in a bleak brick structure above the train yards of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
His father said while dropping Edward off, “Do well on the test or else.” Or else what? Would his father force him to go to the public high school where Edward wanted to go anyway? Or would his father allow no friends over for a month? Edward had no friends. What do you take away when you have nothing?
Edward nodded and exited the car. Inside the school in the dim hallway, a thin man with a nicotine face led him to a small paneled room where a test waited for him on a wooden desk. Edward sighed, flipped the test open, and did as well as he could on the entrance exam, math and English, because he did not want to be thought of as stupid. At the end of the test was the question, “Why do you want to attend McCory School?” He wrote, “I don’t want to. My dad wants me to go.” To the question, “What appeals to you about McCory?” he penned, “Nothing. I want to go to a school with girls. There are no girls here.”
A week later at breakfast, his father said, “I got a call yesterday.”
What was that supposed to mean? His father looked serious.
“From Aunt Barbara?” he tried.
“McCory.” He broke out in a grin. “You made it in.”
“But I don’t want to go to McCory. How can you afford McCory?”
“That’s my problem.”
“I promise to do better at Eastbrook.”
“It’s McCory. We’ll go shopping for suits soon.”
“You have to wear coats and ties there.”
“Don’t give me that look,” said his father. “You’re going to be a businessman someday, so you may as well get used to coats and ties now.”
“What if I want to be a welder?”
“Then you’ll be a gentleman welder. Oh, and one other thing. Because of what you wrote at the end of your test about not wanting to go—they felt you had a maturity issue. You’ll be starting in the eighth grade.”
“But I passed the eighth grade!” said Edward.
“You shouldn’t have written what you did.” His father finished his coffee and put his cup in the sink. He beamed at Edward. “You’re going to be a McCory boy. Someday you’ll thank me.”
As the summer ended, his father took him to the Foursome, a men’s store across the bay in Wayzata. With stern looks that demanded silence from Edward, Dad bought him one blue blazer and one pin-stripped double-breasted suit, as if Edward were a thin, gawky banker. His father had never spent such money on him before. His father asked him one question: “Do you know how to tie a tie?” Edward shook his head, wondering how his father expected such a thing. They never went anyplace that demanded a tie, so how was he supposed to have learned? By the same method he had learned about girls: from boys talking in line at gym?
“I know just the trick for you,” said his father, and stepped away. Edward would have followed, but he noticed a college-age woman, very pretty in a flowered dress, adjusting the tie of her smiling, husky boyfriend in what must be a new blue suit. There was something about her touch, sure and casual, that made Edward stare. As she gazed at her man up and down, the way his mother had once looked at him and his father, Edward wondered if he would ever share such a moment with someone again. Would he ever get a girlfriend?
“Here you go,” said his father, carrying two pre-tied ties. “These are called clip-ons. You’re slow enough in the morning as it is, so this should help you.” His father clipped it on just under Edward’s throat as easily as a horse was attached to a tether.
Weeks later, walking stiffly in his blue blazer and clip-on, Edward walked the half-mile to the corner where the McCory bus would pick him up. The bus was orange like other school buses, but when he stepped on, only boys in coats and ties stared at him, looking like miniature accountants.
“Who are you?” said the first kid, about fourth grade with eyes resembling a gerbil’s.
“Oh,” said the kid. “Got gum?”
A half-hour later, the bus pulled into a long tree-shrouded drive that took them up the hill to the school. The three-story building called the Upper School technically had no grade levels, but rather “forms,” as in English schools. Seniors were Form Six, Juniors, Form Five, etc. Edward was in Form Two, the youngest in the Upper School. The Lower School, a smaller, one-story building a long block away, held grades three through six as well as Form One. The athletic fields lay between. The three wings of the Upper School formed a U, which backed its open end against a berm, giving the central, grassy area in back the feel of a prison yard.
The rooms inside, most of them built for fifteen or fewer students, were small with chipped blackboards and wood floors that had nearly seventy years of yellowed varnish, the color of dead men’s fingernails. The rooms echoed the confinement that Edward soon felt. Between classes, the olive green cement stairs that led to each floor flowed with students, the only time that Edward experienced, in his first days, any sense of positive energy, mainly because each step was that much closer to the final bell. The school motto, “Far from noise and smoke,” which was perhaps meant to suggest healthy isolation and the flowering of minds in a quiet, smogless atmosphere, did not take into consideration the horn blasts and diesel exhaust from passing trains below. As Edward would learn, the world was an ironic place.
Within the first week, one of Edward’s new classmates, John De Bernieres, a husky kid from his English class who walked as if he had a cigar up his butt, beelined right up to him. “What’s your dad do?”
“Why?” said Edward.
“My dad runs a big law firm,” said De Bernieres, “Maybe he knows your dad.”
“Mine’s in publishing.” That was a stretch. His father sold encyclopedias.
“Oh.” De Bernieres yanked Edward’s tie, and when it pulled off, he shouted to no one visible, “Hey, you’re right. The new kid has a clip-on!” Word spread quickly. In the olive drab hallways of McCory, his tie was being yanked off dozens of times daily by an equal number of classmates, including Lee Boatswain, son of the president of Northwest Banks, Robert B. Dalton, whose parents later named a large bookstore chain after him, and Reese Freely, son of the CEO of Dairy Queen.
On Sunday night after his first week of McCory, in bed early, Edward wondered what to do about the ties. His stomach felt as if it were a washrag wrung and twisted so hard, soon there would be no more liquid. Maybe his whole body would dry up and disappear.
Staring up into the darkness beyond the deepest moonless night, Edward realized maybe his father wasn’t the best person to get him through things. His father no longer understood what it was to be a kid. Edward was simply a responsibility. Edward then thought of the time their Sunday dinners had had three placemats, not two. He remembered how he could be with his mother alone, and with a quick hug and a laugh at something Edward said, the world was made right. Maybe she was a ghost, and he could find her. He really wanted to find her. But even if she came to him now, could she help him with a tie? No. The sense of aloneness overwhelmed him. Edward would have to learn how to tie a tie on his own. But how?
Minutes later, he knocked on his father’s bedroom door. Edward was scared to knock on the door, of course, but he had nowhere else to turn, even if his stomach told him not to. “What is it?” barked his father.
“Can I come in?”
“May I come in?”
He found his father in bed, the same king-size bed the man had shared with Edward’s mother, whose last paperback book, Jacqueline Suzanne’s Valley of the Dolls, was still splayed face down on the bedside table as if she would return. His father looked up from a history book about Rommel.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in bed? This is my time. I’m tired,” said his father.
“I’m sorry. I just— I was— I mean—”
“Spit it out!”
“A tie. I’d like a regular tie, if that’s okay. For school.”
“I got you two, didn’t I?”
“They’re clip-ons, not regular.”
“Clip-ons look just fine.”
“But they’re fast to attach.”
“The other kids tie regular ones fast. So will I.”
He thought his dad might raise his voice at the possibly impertinent answer, but instead his father said, “You can tie ties now?”
“Yeah . . . I mean yes.” He had entered the room also meaning to ask him how, but now, seeing how irritated his father might be, thought it better to pretend.
“Open my second closet and take any two you want,” said his father.
Edward nodded. He opened the closet and, from about fifty ties hanging neatly from their own little bars, looked at all the variations on stripes. Nothing stood out, nothing seemed special, so Edward took one in blue and another in green.
“Thanks,” said Edward, and, to his surprise, his father smiled.
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