May Read of the Month Re-Cap

Finally, after a long month of May I have finished Everything Matters by Ron Currie Jr.  I really enjoyed the book (do not let how long it took me to finish fool you, May was a very busy month for me).  As I usually do, I will provide a brief summary and my opinion of the book.  I try not to give too much away in case anyone wants to read the book without spoilers.

The first aspect of the book that captured my attention was the odd narration style.  The novel is told through various characters at different points in the novel.  While the main character Junior Thibodeau is often presenting the story, other narrators include Junior's father, brother, future wife and the all knowing voices that often speak to Junior.  Currie starts most of the chapters with the name of the character narrating the particular chapter.  Do not worry, you will not get confused.

The first half of the novel is well written, providing detailed background information.  The second half is action packed.....as Junior races to live life, save family members and help prepare the citizens of earth for the impending destruction.  I am so happy that I decided to finish the novel, even when I was busy during the month and getting bored at times with much of the background.  Without giving away too much, the novel actually has two endings.  I really like that feature, a cool twist that I do not recall seeing in many books.  There is almost a second book squeezed into the last thirty to forty pages.  The action in the last half of the book will not let you put it down.  I also really enjoyed the characters.  The best way to describe Currie's characters would be "real."  Nothing too over the top, but each with positive traits and flaws (just like each of us).

If you can handle the "end of the world" and family tragedy themes that are prevalent throughout the novel, I suggest giving Everything Matters a chance.  While the novel did have some sad/upsetting points, it also reaffirms the importance of family and enjoying each day with your loved ones.  If you read the book feel free to comment.  Also feel free to email at mpehote@mac.com any time.  Now time to find a read for June!  Happy Memorial Day! 

Comments

  1. Oh no! My comment was too long! I’ll try again, posting in two parts.

    Whole swaths of this book took place in right in my neighborhood! That was so cool! And it’s obvious Currie knows the area. When Junior goes to Merck labs at the Longwood Medical Center, I live right near there! When he walked up Brookline Ave toward the river and wound up on Landsdowne St. outside the Cask and Flagon, I could see that intersection from my last apartment. And this part: “Two hours later I emerge from a taqueria on Landsdowne, my belly full of fish tacos and iced tea,” I grinned ear to ear because he had just eaten one of my favorite meals in the whole city. The fish tacos at La Verdad outside Fenway Park are the best I’ve ever had in my life. Later in that passage, when Junior tells Rodney to meet him at Bertuccis in Kenmore Square, that’s right where I get off the bus on my way home from work! My husband’s favorite bar is right next door! I get so happy when books take place in my neighborhood, and it’s obvious the author actually knows his way around. Weirdly, it happens more often than you’d think. Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge are popular settings, I guess.

    And this description of walking into Fenway Park for the first time was so incredibly right on: “And then that miraculous first view of the park from the infield roof seats, one of those early-life visions that’s seared into your neurons the way shadows were seared into the ground at Hiroshima [nice subtle callback to young Junior seeing Hiroshima on TV and melting down earlier in the book, by the way]. The field so vast yet enclosed by walls, by far the most sprawling interior I’d ever seen. The thousands and thousands of people. The grass impossibly neat, literally hand-trimmed along the infield dirt. The players in their startling white uniforms—big men, a couple of them bigger than even my father. The jumbotron flashing and glittering. The warm, gravelly voice over the PA. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with my father and eating hot dogs together. All of it wonderful, indelible. All these years later the feeling is the same when I step out of the tunnel, five-dollar orange soda in hand, and the narrow concrete walls open onto the wide, wonderful panorama of grass and sky. I remember the moment when my father leaned over and told me ballparks are America’s cathedrals, and Fenway is Notre Dame.”

    That is exactly what it’s like, and reading this passage was like stepping into the park for the first time all over again. It was perfectly done.

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  2. Okay, now that I’m done geeking out over the how precise and awesome the settings were during the Boston scenes, right down to the awesome fish tacos, I can get down to talking about what I thought.

    I wasn’t satisfied with the reset. As a device it worked, and it got Currie’s message across just fine, but I found myself really disliking Junior for not working to save the world. Well, I suppose he did work to save the world as well as anyone possibly could, if they don’t know the world is going to be destroyed by a comet. But he did know that, and so instead of developing the spaceship and warning people like he did in part one, he spent his time bringing clean water to Africans. And he even had a child, which seemed so selfish to me as I read it. But then, considering that choice in light of the broader theme, everyone who has a child does so knowing that someday the child will die. It’s not a selfish thing to do, it’s just part of life. This is where the comet=metaphor for everyone’s eventual death vs. comet=literal comet that will literally destroy the planet starts to get muddled in my head. Read the former way, the book hangs together very well. Read the latter way I found myself thinking, “Junior, why are you condemning all of these people to death with your inaction when you could do something to save them?”

    The voices tell Junior at the beginning that they’re unbiased observers, and can’t interfere in any way, but they interfere ALL THE TIME. Any time he’s about to make a bad or self destructive choice, they barge into his thoughts to try to talk him out of it/remind him that life is worth living/tell him what’s going to go wrong. If they’re a supernatural consciousness that’s doing an experiment on him, then they’re dishonest researchers. Instead of standing back and watching how he lives his life in an unbiased way given the information they’ve provided, they’re constantly trying to steer him toward the conclusion they want, which is for him to live his life to the fullest because Everything Matters.

    The conceit of the book is that Junior knows that the world is going to end and everyone is going to die, and this drives him into despair that that manifests itself in addiction and deep depression. But, of course, it’s no different from what all of us know anyway. We’re all going to die. I’m going to die, my husband is going to die, you’re going to die. The only real difference, I suppose, is that Junior knows when. Is that really enough to make such a big difference? If a supernatural entity told me tomorrow exactly when I would die, would it really change anything? Well, I suppose it would in that I wouldn’t be able to help always having a countdown running in my head, and I’d be upset if it turned out that it was going to be soon. Or maybe I’d find that motivational. Who knows? It seems like such a small, fine point, though. We all know we’re going to die, but we haven’t concluded because of it that there’s no point to living. Maybe that’s Currie’s point: we’re just like Junior in a way, living with knowledge of our mortality, so why does it matter what we do and how we live? His point – hell, the title of his book – says that it certainly does matter, but why?

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  3. For the answer to that, I think it was helpful for me to consider this book’s themes as influenced by the work of David Foster Wallace. The scene where Rodney is answering the therapist’s questions, which are only marked with ellipses, was basically a flashing neon sign pointing readers in Wallace’s direction since that’s how Wallace constructed his Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (in that case the interviewer’s questions were only indicated with Qs). It was nice to see Currie’s homage, and I also liked that the little twist that the interview in Everything Matters! was with the nicest man in the book, not a hideous man at all. Anyway, a major theme in Wallace’s work is that life can seem messy and pointless and immeasurably sad. But it’s our job as human beings to counter that by reaching out, making connections, and deliberately choosing every day to live with kindness, imagination, and compassion. How do you live when you know it’s all going to end? By being a good and generous person, doing your best to avoid nihilism, and loving others, just as you (hopefully) would if you didn’t know it was all going to end. That seemed to be the conclusions the supernatural voices were hoping Junior would reach too, and after the reset, he did. So they got the response they were looking for.

    What do you think?

    Best,
    Meg

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  4. Great comments as usual Meg....first I have to agree with you. Reading a book that is set nearby is always exciting. I remember reading The Michigan Murders while at school at Eastern Michigan and I thought it was so interesting reading about all the places nearby (although the storyline was disturbing). I guess that is another reason why Detroit 187 was so cool, while the show itself lacked, seeing all the nearby places was exciting.

    Second, let me say the description of Fenway park was amazing (I've never been, and really want to go one day) but it brought back memories of my father bringing me to Wrigley or Tiger Stadium as a child. There is nothing like walking into a classic MLB stadium on a sunny day!

    I guess I liked the reset, because even when Junior worked his tail off to save everyone he still could not succeed. Even with all the powers and resources he could not protect those close to him (not to mention numerous strangers.) Why not reset and just live and enjoy life. I agree it is the selfish way to go, but maybe that was the better way to go (as displayed by how the family accepted the comet at the end of the novel compared to others).

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  5. I did pick up the David Foster Wallace book you recommended earlier and hope to read it this summer. It sounds like I will enjoy his work.

    Great point about the voices. They seem to get involved quite a bit. They are also quite arrogant, but I guess I would be too if I was all knowing.

    Regarding the "end" for all of us. After reading I thought long and hard about two different points. First, regarding the choice Junior and his wife had to make regarding what to do with their daughter when the end was near. What a heartbreaking decision. While reading that section I literally teared up thinking of my own children and if I was ever in that situation. I hope to never have to make a choice like that in my lifetime. Junior made the choice I expected, but the scene was still quite chilling.

    I then thought, would I like to know exactly when I was going to die....and I really do not think I would. Anyone that knows me realizes I really do not sweat the small things. I enjoy each day with friends and loved ones and realize it could all end tonight in my sleep. I do not worry about going to Detroit for a night out or heading to the airport flying anywhere. Life is too short (especially with my family genetic history) to worry about trivial things and not enjoy life. Once I had kids I took out a life insurance policy so my family would be fine (that's the only thing I would really worry about). Maybe that is why I enjoyed ending number two, I saw a little of myself in Junior.

    Thanks for the great comments Meg, and how many times have you been to Fenway......I'm jealous :)

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  6. We loved watching Detroit 187. It made us homesick. We would pause the show every other minute, trying to figure out where each scene was filmed. If it hadn’t been made in Detroit, it would’ve just been another cop show.

    It’s funny that I’ve lived out here since 2002, but last year was the first time I ever went to Fenway. Tickets are rarer than gold, and you really have to be on the ball to get them. Boston loves the Red Sox the same way Detroit loves the Wings. They're fanatical. We’ve already been once this season to see them play the Tigers, which was so much fun. I got to trash talk my dad a little, and it was a treat to see Verlander pitch. We’re going to a minor league game at Fenway next month, because I have a deep and abiding cheesy love for minor league baseball, I think because of all the Whitecaps games I went to growing up when my family went up north. Then in August we’re seeing the Red Sox play the Yankess, and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. You should definitely try to get to a game sometime. And before you go, try the fish tacos at La Verdad!

    It’s true that at the end of the story Junior’s family accepted their fate, but I wonder if they’d have felt the same way if they knew he had the means to save them and chose not to. I’m glad they didn’t kill their daughter. I didn’t expect them to: the end was going to be instantaneous anyway. It’s not as though any of them were going to suffer. I’m glad it didn’t turn into that kind of book. I don’t have any kids, and I can’t imagine ever being faced with a choice like that. You’re right, it was chilling. But they made the right call.

    I’m so glad you bought the Wallace book! I give that book to everyone I know for birthdays, housewarmings, going away presents, Christmas, and just because. Practically everyone I know has a copy by now. I just love it. You can get a précis of Wallace's overarching themes in this commencement address he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. Besides being one of the loveliest things I’ve ever read, this speech neatly sums up the major issues he grappled with in his writing. It would be a nice intro before you dive into the essays, and you can probably read through the whole thing in about five minutes. I saw a lot of these themes in Everything Matters as well.

    Blogger isn't letting me post this from my Wordpress account for some reason. Weird.

    Best,
    Meg

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