Monday, October 11, 2010

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr: A Review

Imagine you were a pretty normal kid, albeit a little morose and serious, with a pretty average American family - mom who likes her vodka, quiet but stern father, ball-playing brother - and a pretty smart girlfriend who sees through the bullshit; imagine the regular things in life like church on Sundays, baseball, cold autumnal nights, TVs full of static - it's not so remarkable is it? Now imagine if strange, disembodied voices told you exactly when and how the world was going to end - in exactly 36 years.

So begins Everything Matters!, the debut novel by Ron Currie, Jr. We follow Junior through the ups and downs of everyday life, though it's not exactly normal for him, having the secret knowledge of the world's destruction, everything a constant reminder that whatever anyone does, no matter what happens to any of us, nothing actually matters.

The narrative of the story is told in a fascinating if, at times, slightly boggling fashion, giving the reader glimpses of the end of the world, from the 70s to the present. Many chapters are dedicated to the disembodied voices who see and know everything, not just about Junior, but about his family and his girlfriend's family and the world at large. This broad canvas narrative almost gets the better of Currie, leading onto some extreme tangents (interesting and funny though they may be), but the matter-of-fact delivery of the voices most often saves it.

The other chapters are broken up into the first person narratives of Junior and members of his family and his girlfriend. This is jarring sometimes because these voices are more finely-tuned to the characters' personalities; in particular, Junior's mother and father. However, the characters are interesting enough to follow. Their unhappinessess and Junior's own tragic sense of the doom of the world are made real through their speeches.

But the heart of the tale is, of course, exploring that fundamental question: does anything I do make a difference? Junior and the disembodied voices in Junior's head seem at odds for most of the book, the narrators believing that everything does make a difference and Junior, naturally, sticking to the other side of the argument.

Though a big revelation occurs later in the book and its last fifty pages are its finest, it is bogged by a near-ridiculous middle section involving a terrorist plot and a cigarette in an airplane lavatory. Currie was trying to show us how our lives continue on regardless of the end of the world and the incredibly strange situations we can find ourselves in, but I didn't believe this happening to the character, nor did I believe the outcome.

Other reviewers have compared Everything Matters! to Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood and, though I can't entirely disagree because of the book's Vonnegutian humor and Atwood cool, I don't think Currie, Jr. has reached the level yet. If anything, though, Everything Matters!'s big world view is a step in the right direction and I'm on board for his next trip. Recommended.

-Dustin J Monk

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