In the most memorable piece in Waterville author Ron Currie Jr.'s 2007 debut short story collection, God is Dead (Viking), God is reincarnated as a Dinka woman in a refugee camp in Sudan, who enlists a jive-talking Colin Powell in an effort to find a young boy. That book won two $10,000 prizes: the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library and the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Everything Matters! | By Ron Currie Jr. | Viking | 302 pages | $25.95 | reading at Longfellow Books July 9 at 7 pm | Free | 207.772.4045
In his second book, the new novel Everything Matters! (also Viking), cancer is cured, Mike Huckabee becomes president, Olympia Snowe is persuaded to voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge thanks to the intellect of a young girl, a pre-teen cocaine addict becomes one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, a government office in Chicago is destroyed by a suicide bomber in a wheelchair, and a man is born with the foreknowledge that Earth will be destroyed by a giant comet in 36 years.
Currie clearly has a fondness for taking apocalyptic premises to sometimes-preposterous extremes — all of the stories in God is Dead consider a world in which God doesn't exist; the new volume revolves around Junior, the young boy whose knowledge of the coming apocalypse is his cross to bear — and Everything Matters! pushes that habit to its limits. The author has a gift for enhancing these provocative concepts with a dash of philosophical rigor and, more importantly, some surprisingly lived-in, affecting characters.
Alternating sections of Everything Matters! are narrated by Junior's family and his teenage girlfriend, Amy. In them, Currie paints a refreshingly anonymous yet believable portrait of life in big-small-town Maine (honest, struggling, flawed families; dive bars; late shifts; a hippie-druggie uncle) that grounds the novel as Junior and company grow up and find themselves in increasingly spectacular, cinematic circumstances. For a novel where quite literally anything can happen, Currie suggests that the ties that bind family and loved ones are stronger than arguments, sickness, addictions, and even the inevitable apocalypse. Just as that sentiment embeds some consistency in our lives, it deftly manages to keep Everything Matters! — a fun, fleet-footed read — from veering too far into absurdity.
I interviewed Currie via e-mail about the new book, making the transition to writing a novel, and living up to great expectations. What follows is an edited transcript.
WHAT'S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM WRITING SHORT STORIES TO MAPPING OUT A 300-PAGE NOVEL? Sustaining my own enthusiasm for the project. With short stories you don't have the time to get bored, or to experience boredom's evil cousin, doubt. My own mood while working on the novel was sort of like a sine wave, with apexes where the work was going so well it felt as though I was merely a conduit, and troughs during which I doubted my ability to write a decent e-mail, let alone a novel. I think this is a fairly common experience among novelists.
IS THERE MUCH DIFFERENCE FOR YOU IN THE BUSINESS SIDE OF RELEASING A SECOND BOOK — DOING READINGS, ANTICIPATING REVIEWS, "LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS"? DOES STEPHEN KING SEND YOU A LETTER WELCOMING YOU TO THE MAJOR MAINE AUTHORS CLUB? I think, if we're talking in terms of readership, that Stephen King is the Major Maine Authors Club, and the rest of us are part of some funny little auxiliary. But yeah, the second time around is different, and by and large that difference is negative. The first time it's a novelty, and you're just kind of spinning around like Mary Tyler Moore — or maybe it's more like Mary Poppins. You can't believe you have an actual book in actual print. You go into stores to molest your book with no regard whatsoever to the suspicious glances shot your way by other customers. The second time, you understand the business a bit better, and the significance of review venues and sales numbers, and it's tougher on the soul. Best you can do is try to ignore it and continue working, since by the time someone's plunking down cash for the book, its fate is almost entirely out of your hands.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION THAT GUIDES EVERYTHING MATTERS! IS, "DOES ANYTHING I DO MATTER?" I'M NOT CONVINCED YOU GIVE A CONCISE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION (NOT THAT YOU SHOULD, BY ANY MEANS), BUT I WONDER HOW YOUR IDEA OF THE ANSWER EVOLVED AS YOU WROTE THE BOOK. Well to be honest I still haven't answered the question for myself with anything approaching satisfaction. Life isn't a novel, after all, and even though any writer worth his salt will make an effort to approximate the complexity and messiness of real life, it's impossible to really capture and still write a compelling narrative. Because let's face it, real life has a lot of digressions, pointless scenes that lead nowhere, and lots of dead air. This is part of its messiness and complexity, but it doesn't make for good reading.