Book Review

Impending doom inspires an exquisite mess

CorrespondentAugust 9, 2009 

  • Everything Matters!

    Ron Currie Jr.

    Viking, 320 pages

Let's say I just read a novel in which the protagonist hears a divine voice that tells him the world is going to end soon because of a comet strike. Our hero has clairvoyance, the ability to cure cancer and the scientific brilliance to save us from that strike.

He also rescues the love of his life from a rogue FBI agent who is torturing her for disabling the smoke detector in an airplane lavatory.

If we played name-that-author, you might guess that it's a science fiction novel written by a precocious teen.

In a sense, you'd be right. This is the work of award-winning literary author Ron Currie Jr., who has been hailed as one of America's best "young lion" fiction writers for his bold 2007 novel-through-short-story-collection, "God Is Dead."

Currie gives his prodigious imagination free rein in "Everything Matters!" which means that some of the novel succeeds brilliantly, but much of it doesn't. He has the talent and the courage to write what he likes -- courage that resembles the exuberant naïveté of an adolescent in love with storytelling.

"Everything Matters!" opens in utero with the hero, Junior Thibodeau, being addressed by a divine voice that assures him the world will end in 2010, 36 years after his birth. The voice speaks in numbered paragraphs that count down from 97 in ways both sententious ("Listen: Everything ends, and everything matters") and teenage-dramatic: "The power of crush, though, daunting and impressive as it is, cannot hope to compare to that of love."

To his credit, Currie nails the character of the brooding, doom-haunted child that Junior becomes: "I am not your routine disturbed adolescent. ... I see visions that make Hiroshima look like a cherry bomb." The early chapters, set in the author's native Maine, ring painfully true.

It is when Junior must decide what to do with his knowledge about the comet strike that the novel begins to run away like a gingerbread man. Junior first tries to drink his way from the coming doom, then about-faces and begins research at an observatory, where he discovers an Earthlike planet in a distant solar system and convinces the government that the comet is coming.

And truly, that's just for starters.

Along the way, engaging, deftly written chapters in the voices of Junior's father, a baker ("At the bakery it's just me ... and the raspberry horns and the tourtiere pies and my cigarette going in the ashtray near the back sink"), brother, and aforementioned girlfriend enrich the narrative. All of which makes for an exquisite mess of a novel.

Will Junior be able to save humanity from destruction? Is the author trying to telegraph to his readers an elaborate message about the preciousness of life in the here and now? Are the plot holes big enough to get lost in, or only lose a tire in? You'll turn pages to find out.

Currie hasn't dialed in his mature voice, but his quasiadolescent one sounds as if he's making good, and entertaining, progress.

David Frauenfelder blogs at Breakfast with Pandora (www.myth.typepad.com) and is the author of "Growing Up Heroic: Adventures in Greek Mythology."

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