The large screen leaps to life, basso profundo, showing the red carpet canyon leading into the Shrine Auditorium with columns of Oscars bigger than Buicks. Hillary Swank in an olive gown, a chandelier of jewelry, and all those teeth, hugs her husband Chad Lowe and says that “the role afforded me an understanding of humanity.” I wish I had that. An understanding. – From Academy Award Afternoon & Evening, page 13 –
Christopher Meeks’ first collection of short stories is chock full of humanity. The stories are quirky, accessible and insightful and tackle a variety of themes. In the first story – Academy Award Afternoon and Evening – a couple envies another couple’s home and expensive furnishings, only to discover there may be more important things in life than material possessions. Likewise, a character’s ruminations on his mortality in the title story seems to put things in perspective for the narrator who is on a fishing trip with his brother-in-law.
As he spoke, the words “one fine morning” came to me. One fine morning, what? It occurred to me that at our best moments, on our fine mornings, our future is golden. “Soon” we will buy the right IPO and get rich on stock. “Soon” our spouse will recognize how brilliant we are. “Soon” our lives would make sense. Year-by-year, though, we have less future, and the current always is against us. If we can’t be golden or can’t be recognized or can’t find sense this year, when? Or how? I wish I knew. Bert looked unusually content, as if he knew but couldn’t explain. Maybe, I surmised, only when you are dying do you know what is truly valuable. - from The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, page 29 -
Another theme that recurs throughout the collection relates to the idea that we may not always really know someone. Meeks examines relationships, specifically those of girlfriend/boyfriend and husband/wife and reveals the doubt and secrets hidden beneath a seemingly perfect exterior.
As Darryl lay back, staring into the afternoon sky, he wondered could Cheryl have an affair? No. She was a work junkie and too cynical to have another relationship. If she were having an affair, she’d have to schedule it. Spontaneity was not her suit. – from High-Occupancy Vehicle, page 123 -
Meeks’ ability to reveal the very human traits of his characters is one of his strengths. Behind the confident exteriors of some of his male characters lies doubt, fear and vulnerability.
He hadn’t had any sex for several months, and he wondered if he were no different than salmon, swimming up the river to Ralphs. His genes put him in jeans and had him troll among wedges of cultured milk products to woo the way pilots needed planes or Rustoleum needed rust. Who would want him: Awkward, so damn needy, and with a cowlick? - from The Fundamentals of Nuclear Dating, page 137 -
Throughout the collection, the reader is treated to Meeks’ black humor and sharp eye for the foibles of humanity. His characters are flawed and at times a bit eccentric. For example, in Shooting Funerals a young woman named Vicky begins to question her relationship with her boyfriend who is resisting marriage. In an effort to establish her independence, Vicky decides she will turn her love of photography into a funeral based business.
On the way home, Vicky pictured in her mind all the shots she invented but did not get: the executor’s cutting of the cake at the reception, the widow’s tossing of a faded rose – both of which she thought might become standard shots at funerals. Her best creation would have been having the family stand in two rows, their backs to each other to create a corridor where no faces could be seen. The main bereaved person, in this case the widow, would then solemnly walk down the aisle of backs, throwing rice on everyone’s shoulders, symbolizing, Vicky felt, tears as well as the idea of rebirth. – from Shooting Funerals, page 79 -
My favorite story in this collection was The Rotary which is narrated by a young man who is sitting at the bedside of his dying grandfather. He reflects on his grandfather’s “possible past” which also leads to him imagining how his parents met and married.
Should I shout from the sidelines, “No, no, no?” That you will marry and divorce and marry and divorce, like yo-yos searching for the perfect spin? Should I say that Henry, my father, is a wonderful man, but they’re not right for each other, and my sister and I will be confused? That we, too, as adults will join the spin of serial marriages? Then my own biology, too, impulsively calls: marry, marry – make me be. Let me grow up and sail with my grandfather and learn about running with the wind. – from The Rotary, page 64 -
In this beautiful story about a man’s love for his grandfather and the fragile connections between people Meeks writes: Our lives turn on the stupidest things.
Yes. A simple truth which resonates through each of Meeks’ short stories.
Christopher Meeks has written a collection of stories which appeal in their simplicity and honesty. As with his second collection (Months and Seasons – reviewed here), The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea is a book I can recommend to readers who love short stories.
To read more about Christopher Meeks and his work, visit this site.
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