…But Good Writing Matters More…

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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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