July 2009

Sean P. Carroll

fiction

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr

Junior Thibodeau has a problem. Junior is the willful yet exacerbating protagonist of Ron Currie Jr's breathtaking novel, Everything Matters!, published by Viking. After he narrowly survives asphyxiation in utero, Junior immediately becomes the sole human caretaker of a seemingly dire prophecy. Imparted by a collective voice of indeterminate origin, he knows when and how all life on Earth will be obliterated. The when is 36 years and 168 days from his birth and the how is via a comet's impact with Earth and Junior is left with an eternal question, via his omniscient shepherds, Does Anything I Do Matter? This question and its answers are the springboard for Currie's wildly inventive novel whose stylistic scope and range are not straitjacketed by Junior's doomsday scenario, but instead propels the book to dizzying narrative poles mirrored by Junior's peripatetic and perilous odyssey.

Currie is no stranger to apocalyptic fiction. His first book, God Is Dead (2007), is a collection of linked stories which documents the disintegration of societal norms after God takes the form of a young Dinka woman in a Sudanese refugee camp who is subsequently murdered in internecine warfare. While God Is Dead contained shards of a world gone awry, Everything Matters! presents Junior's worldview in all of its delirious splendor and terror. Junior's dominant voice is given balance throughout the book by Currie's use of shifting perspective. Early in the novel this counterweight is naturally provided by his mother and father. Tellingly, Junior's mother is referred to by name, despite her shadowy, alcoholic existence, while his father is initially called only by his parental title. This cipher of a man confounds and intimidates Junior but despite his ambivalence later in the book he will go to suicidal extremes, with an assist from his would-be protectors, in order to exterminate the cancer ravaging his father's seemingly impermeable body.

The Thibodeau family tree is completed by Junior's older brother Rodney who initially seems like a stock character: the older brother who resents his younger sibling, develops a drug problem, discovers inventive ways to torment said sibling, in this case by threatening to turn on the television after Junior has a seizure upon his initial exposure to nuclear testing footage. However, Rodney is transformed by a device that in a lesser writer's hands would be considered hackneyed, and he emerges as a baseball playing savant whose sweetness and naiveté offer a stark contrast to the demons that plague Junior throughout his understandably burdened life.

Despite the seemingly bleak prognosis for Junior's abbreviated existence, salvation appears in the unlikely form of Amy Benoit. Amy, who is considered "homely" by the clinical Junior, prophetically appears in his Gifted & Talented class on the day of the Challenger explosion. That day was the first time that most children, granted the privilege of watching the launch in school, had to confront the reality and randomness of death; a stark contrast to its omnipresence in Junior's life.

In the aftermath, Junior falls immediately in love and his ardor for Amy inspires him to reveal his knowledge of "The Destroyer of Worlds," a pivotal juncture for innumerable reasons. Amy's shock and disbelief cause her to reject Junior and eventually depart for Stanford where she keeps him at a healthy remove. Junior's reaction to this personal cataclysm is manifested in a precipitous spiral of drug addiction, psychosis and an inadvertent foray into domestic terrorism. Currie nimbly avoids the clichés and melodrama that usually permeate such scenarios and it is Amy's faith in Junior that finally pulls him from an abyss of his own construction.

Of course, one mustn't forget about the comet and the looming extinction of all mankind. It might appear that Currie has written himself into a corner with such a premise but the vitality and intelligence of Junior dispel such a notion. The novel teems with a relentless energy and Currie's electric prose is pitch perfect. When Junior is unexpectedly given a life-altering choice by his ever present interlocutors, the decision he makes and its myriad consequences are both profound and surprising. Finally, Currie manages the deft trick of making a novel replete with disaster end on a note brimming with a most unusual kind of hope.

 

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.
Viking
ISBN: 9780670020928
305 Pages

 

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