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Monday, August 11, 2008

Months and Seasons

I find short stories to be like snapshots, quick peeks into worlds and situations I would otherwise never have experienced. The best of them have an easy rhythm that lends itself to an almost effortless reading experience and allows me to lose myself in the stories for the whole time it takes me to read their fifteen or twenty pages. But all too often these days, short story collections are similar to the CDs being produced by the major record labels: great title track, one or two other catchy tunes, plus a whole lot of filler material needed to bring the whole thing to the required twelve tracks. I am pleased to report that if Months and Seasons, the new collection from Christopher Meeks, was a music album, many of its twelve pieces would be destined for the charts – no filler here.

As suggested by the book’s title, the stories offer short looks into the lives of characters that are experiencing the various seasons of a lifetime. There are stories about children, about young singles and couples, about couples closer to middle age, and about men even closer to the ends of their lives. But whatever their age, all of these characters are coping as best they can with the problems and situations that life is throwing at them at that moment. Some of their conflicts are of the life-changing variety and others are of the everyday type similar to what most readers will have experienced for themselves at some point in their own lives. The particular beauty of this story collection is how Meeks is able to make his reader care as much about the little girl trying to get over her fear of water as for the aged writer who is about to lose a lifetime’s accumulation of memories to an out-of-control brush fire.

I find it difficult to choose a favorite Months and Seasons story from those that strike me as being exceptionally memorable. If pressed to choose just one, I would likely end up with “The Wind Just Right,” the story of a little girl who is lulled into losing her fear of water, and actually learns to swim, in the hands of a young teacher who herself learns that she is exactly the teacher this little girl needs, someone the little girl will probably remember for the rest of her life. The way that both girls gain self-confidence and the ability to trust their instincts makes this a beautiful story.

In “The Sun Is a Billiard Ball,” one of the longer stories in the book, a couple fearing they have been exposed to AIDS and a man exhibiting symptoms of a deadly cancer find their lives intersecting in a way that could have not been foreseen by any of them even a split second before it happened. The courage, love and humor of this story make it one destined to be remembered. But, because I don’t want to mislead anyone, I should note that Meeks handles humor and absurd situations as well as he handles serious topics. In fact, he opens the book with the humorous “Dracula Sinks into the Night,” about what starts out as the costume party from hell for one man but turns into an unexpected blessing for him and his wife.

There is even a “bonus track” at the end of the collection, a preview of the book that Mr. Meeks is working on now, The Brightest Moon of the Century, a novel that will, in short story form, cover thirty years in the life of its central character, Edward. “The Hand,” which closes Months and Seasons, is actually the first chapter of that new book, a chapter in which young Edward and his father are both forced to do a bit of growing up. I can’t decide whether to call “The Hand” a trailer or a teaser but its inclusion in this collection was a brilliant idea because it has left me so intrigued to learn the rest of Edward’s story that I will jump at the chance to read The Brightest Moon of the Century when it is available. Trailer, teaser and very fine short story all rolled into one, it worked well.

Rated at: 5.0
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