“Meeks” by Julia Holmes


Meeks is sleeping in the park again, under the cruel statue that he was named for. Ben barely sleeps at all, with the looming threat of Autumn. (If he doesn’t become a Husband—he can’t even afford a Bachelor’s suit!) One Brother of Mercy wakes with a fistful of dynamite and a plan.

Julia Holmes’ Meeks is a book that will affect your sleep. The strange society she fabricates, dominated by the shadowy monolith of Captain Meeks—who was he? what did he do for us? what did he do to the Enemy?—is frighteningly simple to understand, but it will keep you up thinking.

The War is definitely over, and the government has turned its attacks in on its own population, but no one seems to have noticed. The young men still go off to War, where they patrol endlessly, without ever encountering the Enemy, and when they return they become Bachelors—seeking a fiancée during the Summer, so that they can marry in the Autumn and begin producing bouncing baby citizens in the spring. If they fail to mate, they’re relegated to the factories, where the lucky ones die of exhaustion instead of being crushed in a grinding of gears.

Like the entire situation, Holmes’ humor is absurd. It’s also vaguely Russian. Meeks reads like lighter Dostoevsky. Ben’s been compared by other critics to the Underground Man, but Holmes is taking a look at a character whose isolation is the result social constructs, not some intellectual quagmire. How should Ben communicate when his language is atrophied by dogma? (“The Captain said it, and so it would be!”) If he stammers and stops, perhaps it’s because he’s the only person really trying to say anything.

Meeks builds to a powerful climax on Independence Day—marking the beginning of Autumn and the end of a way of life. If Holmes falters anywhere in the book, it’s on the last two pages: there’s an ambiguous quality to the ending that seems unintentional. Regardless, Meeks finishes strong, with an ending that’s less inevitable than it may seem.