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Meeks Paperback – July 20, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A highly imaginative debut finds a stark Darwinian logic in a rigidly hierarchical society. In Holmes's unnamed dystopia, everyone is ascribed a place strictly enforced by the police, with the young Bachelors bearing the responsibility of finding a wife, an accomplishment that will secure them a place in society. If, as in the case of protagonist Ben, a wife is not secured (due to a kind of perverse resentment and no money to order the requisite pale-colored courting suit), he falls to the retribution of the Brothers of Mercy, thugs who sweep down on the unsuccessful and conscript them as laborers and executioners. The story cuts between the plight of Ben, stuck in his black mourning suit unable to better himself, and a doomed, delusional character called Meeks, who lives in the park. Both characters—fatherless, steeped in sentimental memories of a long-lost childhood and the love of their mothers—now give off the stink of failure, and are by turns rescued and denounced by their brothers. Holmes has fashioned a terrifying and utterly convincing world in which the perfect human being is one stripped of all illusions. (July)
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Review

"Meeks is a wild, woolly, sly, gentle and wry first novel. . . . It's a book whose singular vision keeps returning to me at odd moments, one of the most original and readable novels that's come my way in a long time."
--The New York Times Book Review | Editor's Choice

"The novel is a postmodern parable about American passion and paranoia, like The Great Gatsby as told by Don DeLillo."
--The New York Observer

"The satire here has plenty of bite, but instead of winking at the reader, Holmes evokes her world with luminous prose."
--Los Angeles Times


“A highly imaginative debut finds a stark Darwinian logic in a rigidly hierarchical society. . . . Holmes has fashioned a terrifying and utterly convincing world in which the perfect human being is one stripped of all illusions.”—Publishers Weekly

Meeks is a feat of desolating literary spellcraft, irresistible for its bleak hilarity and the sere brilliance of Julia Holmes’s prose.”—Wells Tower (author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned)

“The world of Meeks is cruel, cold, and weird, suffocating in laws so strange they very nearly resemble our own. Julia Holmes is that rare artist who, with invention and mythology, reveals nothing less than the most secret inner workings of the real world we overlook every day. A masterful debut by a writer of the most forceful originality.”—Ben Marcus (author of Notable American Women)

“Oh bachelors, poor bachelors, pining for their pale suits—these needy men, so poignant in their search for wives, will break your heart in twain. Splendid and limping, hilarious and painful, a quiet perfection in its idiosyncrasy, the powerful alternate reality of Meeks is also an unforgettable truth. You’ll never see marriage the same way again.”—Lydia Millet (author of Oh Pure and Radiant Heart)

“The life of a bachelor is always hard, but in Meeks it’s truly desperate: if you don’t have the right suit then it’s either the Brothers of Mercy or the factories. Julia Holmes’s lucid prose tightens the noose of this curious world around your readerly neck before you even know what’s hit you. An invisible enemy, a pageant, a fashion system whose signification would stymie Roland Barthes, and a society that demands everyone rush quickly to fill their odd social slot, makes Meeks a unique (and uniquely imaginative) nightmare and a severely engrossing read.”—Brian Evenson (author of Fugue State)

“Pity the young gentleman set loose in this world of cruel tailors, perpetual war, large-scale civic pastry and the untold rivalries of the Bachelor House! With her uncommonly assured first novel, Julia Holmes channels the surreal paranoia of Poe and the dark-comic melodrama of a lost Guy Maddin script. The strangest, most compelling debut you’ll read this year.”—Mark Binelli (author of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!)

“The satire here has plenty of bite, but instead of winking at the reader, Holmes evokes her world with luminous prose.”—Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Small Beer Press (July 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781931520652
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931520652
  • ASIN: 1931520658
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,454,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Meg Sumner TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Duly noted: the official exhortation to pursue one's own happiness or be put to the task of generating happiness for others, or worse-to be not in the picture."

Meeks is the first dystopian novel that I've ever read, and I'm glad I started the genre with an exceptionally good title. For in this imaginary world (if indeed it is imaginary rather than futuristic), nothing is as it seems. The complexities of life are narrowed down to the need for a good pale suit to woo in, and an appetite for lovely and varied cakes.

Two main characters alternate in the novel: Ben and Meeks. Ben is desperate to find a pale suit, because that's what all the suitable bachelors wear in the city park, flirting with women and insuring their actual health and future by finding a wife. You see, there's a deadline...an unmarried man is either forced to become a civil servant (who can only wear gray smocks) or be killed. This desire to be married doesn't appear to have anything to do with romance, instead it's just a means to continue living and enjoying the sweets that the ladies provide in abundance. That, and the ability to wear lovely seasonal sweaters in pale colors (all the happy married men wear them prominently). But all Ben has is a cheap black suit, and despite his efforts, he can't get a pale one. He resides temporarily in a home for bachelors, where suitable "manly" hobbies are assigned to the residents. His fear is tenable: "what if he was becoming, or had become, an unlovable man? What if the toxin of failure was already coursing through his veins, what if he was already stinking of defeat?"

The character of Meeks is a bit more complicated. He really doesn't know who he is, and his namesake, Captain Meeks, is rather ambiguous.
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It took me a while to adjust to the language of this understated world with its severe social restraints, but once I did I was hooked and lost myself into it. Orwellian is an easy descriptor for the world created in Meeks, but it is its own unique world onto itself. Impossible things happen in this world, but then I would get a chill and realize that in fact, maybe, it had already happened in our real world but no one noticed? On top of the fascinating world created in Meeks, the writing is very good and a pleasure to read. Great descriptions that make you feel and smell the surroundings. I've found my thoughts drifting back to Meeks frequently in the week since I finished reading it--for me a sign of a worthwhile read..
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I listened to this as an audio book, and that probably made it harder to follow than it would have been if I read it in book form. That being said, I think the novel is pretty hard to follow in ANY form. It seems to be a social commentary on a very strange world. 20th Century gender roles would seem to be reversed in this world: men NEED to marry to ensure their socioeconomic position in society. The manner in which they try to distinguish themselves from one another can be compared to the portrayal of women in 19th century novels: just substitute needlepoint, lace making and accomplished piano playing for gun collecting (??) painting, poetry etc. The characters are cardboard cut outs: there wasn't much substance to any of them (especially the women, which is odd since the author is, presumably, a woman). A war has been going on for generations, yet no explanation is given for it's origins, This might be by design (the people themselves don't know, or can't remember what they're fighting for), or the author just isn't very interested in this kind of detail. I couldn't tell which. Similarly, who is the heroic figure Captain Meeks? Everyone seems to revere him, and honor him on "Independence Day". But I wasn't able to make out what was so heroic about him. Again, this might be the point and I missed it: people venerate historical figures without really considering WHO these people actually were, more from tradition than from critical thought.

This book reminds me of Albert Camus' novel, The Stranger (which I didn't really get either). I think if you liked that book, you will like this one. Me, not so much.
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This is a bleak masterpiece. I would love to hear an interview with the author - from pictures, an attractive young woman, who has a chill, yet heartrending worldview. Original, insightful, intelligent. I noticed the tag selections on Amazon - very misleading. This is a great book club selection - can't recommend it enough.
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Meeks is the story of a bachelor whose youth was wasted fighting an undefined enemy in a protracted war. Penniless and without prospects, he must marry or perish as a civil servant (or worse, be put to death):

". . . the official exhortation to pursue one's own happiness or be put to the task of generating happiness for others, or worse-to be not in the picture."

It is also about a park-dwelling, delusional man (name-sake of the state's founder!) who aspires to wearing a policeman's uniform, carrying a gun and defending a state that has never held a place for him.

The setting is a sort of steam-punk dystopia--evoking a cold, minimalist future that in many ways harks back to Victorian ideals and early 19C concerns. The lushly rendered, highly stylized setting serves as a striking contrast to a poverty of human connection that will feel hauntingly familiar to modern readers. The result is an uncanny sense of familiarity and strangeness, as if you have been given the rare opportunity to step out of your life and watch it from afar. The writing is spare and beautiful and highly readable.

This dystopian novel is not about whys, hows or wherefores and is not going to satisfy those readers who like taking things apart in order to see how they work. This is a novel of ideas, yes, but also of gut-wrenching feelings, personal and social failings and, ultimately loss.
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