Julia Holmes - published July 2010
July 20, 2010 · 9781931520652 · trade paperback
“Julia Holmes takes a page from Suzanne Collins — whose thriller The Hunger Games borrowed from reality TV — by imagining a world where bachelors jockey for mates, becoming laborers if they fail ”until one died of exhaustion or was yanked from the factory floor by the trailing teeth of some awful machine.” In Meeks her main character, shy Ben, appears destined to fail: He can barely talk to women, let alone romance them. Yet even though his fate seems preordained, Meeks, leavened by Holmes’ wit, never becomes grim melodrama.” B+
No woman will have Ben without a proper bachelor’s suit . . . and the tailor refuses to make him one. Back from war with a nameless enemy, he’s just discovered that his mother is dead and that his family home has been reassigned by the state. As if that isn’t enough, he must now find a wife, or he’ll be made a civil servant and given a permanent spot in one of the city’s oppressive factories.
Meanwhile, Meeks, a foreigner who lives in the park and imagines he’s a member of the police, is hunted by the overzealous Brothers of Mercy. Meeks’s survival depends on his peculiar friendship with a police captain—but will that be enough to prevent his execution at the annual Independence Day celebration?
A dark satire rendered with all the slapstick humor of a Buster Keaton film, Julia Holmes’s debut novel evokes the strange charm of a Haruki Murakami novel in a dystopic setting reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Meeks portrays a world at once hilarious and disquieting, in which frustrated revolutionaries and hopeful youths suffer alongside the lost and the condemned, just for a chance at the permanent bliss of marriage and a slice of sugar-frosted Independence Day cake.
“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
“Holmes is a wonderful writer.”
“Holmes pares her prose to a pitch-perfect Beckettesque flatness—in a novel so richly engaged, and darkly amused, by the pathos of our contemporary search for love, the narrative authority maintains a wonderfully ironic tightness with a gentle, subtle indulgence for the striking metaphor and the occasional glint of cool wit that makes the reading at once eloquent and understated, edgy and nostalgic.”
—Review of Contemporary Fiction
“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.”
Read an interview with Julia on Portland’s Reading Local:
But the farther along you go, the better you understand the world’s weird local laws — even in an entirely invented, contrived world, there’s no tolerance for lies. I think that’s just crazy and delightful.
Julia picks 5 Recent Reads for Impose Magazine.
An August 2010 Indie Next Notable Book
“Holmes has created a fabulously surreal dystopia where to be married is the only way to find true happiness. Bachelors spend their days cultivating skills to impress ladies in what is essentially a lottery, and if they aren’t successful, they are consigned to a life of civil service–or worse. Darkly comic and lyrical, Meeks provides a unique satirical lens to look at our own changing perceptions of marriage, home life, and success.”
—Emily Pullen, Skylight Books, Los Angeles
Early Reader Reaction:
“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 and The Age of Wire and String)
“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 How the Dead Dream and 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 and The Open Curtain)
“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!)
Cover art © Robyn O’Neil.