Every Thing Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.
Writer friend Dave Frauenfelder loaned me this one, a novel I wouldn’t have picked - by an author I’d never heard of (with the overabundance of writers out there, such is the state of reading these days). It has much to dismay me, along the lines of my previous grousing against David Foster Wallace’s postmodern style. Still, it was a good read - and that’s no faint congratulation from this reader to the writer.
First, the story in brief: Junior Thibodeaux, while still in his mother’s dank innards, hears a voice (or voices) telling him the world will end in 2010, due to the earth and a comet caroming off one another. Parenthetically, this is much like some scientists think happened many eons ago to form our current earth and moon.
We leave Junior for a while and delve into his brother Rodney’s adolescence, one in which he becomes all too soon acquainted with cocaine, which leaves him a loopy but talented baseball star.
Then there’s their mother, a closet alcoholic, and their father, a Vietnam vet who works in a bakery and has temper problems. Season that with Amy, Junior’s on-again-off-again girl friend, and you have the catalytic concoction Currie wants us to put in our pipe and smoke.
Later, however, Junior, because of the apocalyptic revelation he’s been privy to, drinks too much and leads a life of all-American dissipation. Eventually, he even becomes lulled into a plot to blow up a Social Security building in Chicago and lands in jail for his effort.
Redemption for Junior comes in the tandem form of helping addled brother Rodney out when he’s not between baseball’s foul lines and working with a clandestine government agency to study the approaching problem of the still-unnoticed comet.
As you may suspect, this is a dark, comedic and satirical farce – a twenty-first century rave-up a la Vonnegut. Curry gives us some hilarious passages. My favorite is a passage in which Junior’s girlfriend Amy presides over a scatological moment, entering an airplane’s rest room after it had been turned offensive by its previous occupant. But for my taste, these moments were too few balanced against the dark troubles infecting Junior, Rodney, and their families.
The author’s structure works well, for the most part: chapters in which Junior, Rodney, Amy, the boys’ father, speak in present tense. (I’ve been wary of present tense – it’s easy to overdo.) And there are even chapters in which Junior’s “voices” speak to him, in a faux-second person style.
However – and this with a capital “H” – Curry inexplicably throws in a segment near the end in which the “voices” tell Junior that things didn’t need to go as they did – and possibly don’t – in some parallel universe. This seems to be an attempt to do what writers have attempted for a century, i.e., to work modern science into a novel, something that almost always falls flat.
Still, Curry seems to want us to understand modern life through these darker moments: the availability of drugs and alcohol, the tendency to compulsion, violence marbled with the most banal aspects of our information age. As the comet is discovered and tracked, its presence is held secret from the public - a typical reaction of our age, in which those in positions of influence and power seek to lull the public into opiate-like states of complacency and unconcern.
It’s only when earth’s destruction becomes imminent that Junior and his inner circle of family and friends abandon their various states of alienation to huddle together and face Earth’s final moments. Beyond this small group’s final intimacies, Curry gives us wholesale violence, hysteria, and chaos as the comet begins its fatal collision with earth.
I doubt humans would react in such a deranged way in an apocalyptic moment, but then literature always exaggerates human frailties in order to make their causes more obvious. What Curry leaves us with here is the realization that even the most insignificant aspects of our lives can grow into great burdens when not tended to. This insight isn’t one to be taken lightly. Curry treats it with a literary punch concocted of clever writing and a compulsion to science. For my money, it would have been stronger had he left most of the trendy science at home.
My rating: 4 stars of 5
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