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Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Middle-Aged Man & the Sea

Nine of the thirteen stories in this first Christopher Meeks short story collection were first published in journals and literary magazines around the country, and anyone reading this little book will certainly understand why that happened. Meeks has a particular talent for getting into the heads of his characters and taking their doubts and concerns as seriously as the characters themselves take them. As a result, readers of Chris Meeks stories do the same.

Not all of these stories are about middle-aged people; some of the main characters are in their twenties, some in their thirties, but they have all reached a place where uneasiness about the future dominates their lives.

The stories are about relationships – between marriage partners, between couples choosing to live together rather than marry, between daters, and between family members of different generations. There are men and women unhappy about what their marriages have become, older men being pressured into marriage by younger women who are becoming more and more desperate to get it done, and older people simply trying to die with a little dignity. Some of the stories are funny, some are touching and sad, and one of them has a Hitchcock-like ending. What all the stories have in common, though, is the ease with which the reader slips into and out of them, along the way learning something about himself and his own state of mind.

My personal favorite, “Nike Had Nothing to Do with It,” is an ironic tale about a man who heads out on a run to relieve his anger after the mother of his newborn daughter announces that their relationship is no longer working. What happens next is not what either of them expected when the day began.

Particularly touching are the stories about dying, “Dear Ma,” in which an old woman hides more and more in her past as her days run out, and “The Rotary,” in which a loyal and loving grandson receives an unexpected gift at his grandfather’s deathbed. Meeks, however, manages to make serious points even when he uses humor in his stories. “Divining” is about a man who has become so “Californicated” that, even in all of his weirdness, he believes that he is the normal one and the rest of the world is out of step. And, in “Shooting Funerals,” another of my favorites, a 38-year-old woman tries to reinvent herself by becoming the world’s first “funeral photographer” – and is honestly surprised by the reaction she gets on her first job.

The Middle-Aged Man & the Sea is a very fine short story collection and I highly recommend it, especially to those readers who might be dipping seriously into the short story genre for the first time.

This modern day collection is an excellent place to start.

Rated at: 5.0


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