Everything Matters! A Novel

April 9, 2011

Ron Currie, Jr.

Penguin Books, 2010

320 pages Fiction

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Junior Thibodeau knows the year he’ll die—the exact month and day, the precise moment of his death (along with the complete destruction of the earth) “thirty-six years, one hundred sixty-eight days, fourteen hours, and twenty-three seconds” from the day he’s born. All this information is given to him while in utero. With that kind of information, a person could view a life without hope—ultimately pretty depressing. It helps that Junior is “the fourth smartest person” who ever lived (but certainly not the wisest). It helps he has these unidentifiable voices to tell him pieces and shadows of the future—some of which he’s able to use to his benefit, but most often not. They’re just a damned nuisance, for the most part.

Initially, Junior immaturely uses the mysterious voices (are they angels, God, aliens?) to his advantage to navigate his youth, but later becomes depressed when his high school sweetheart dumps him because he unwisely tells her of his apocalyptic whispers of the future. Yet these voices are just helpful enough to warn Junior of things such as his older brother Rodney’s addiction to cocaine and his father’s premarital tryst with a Vietnamese prostitute while at war.

Junior’s discouraging future looms, continues to press in on him, and he even considers becoming an accomplice to a domestic terrorist plot (pre 9/11, of course).Without giving too much of the plot away, Junior reunites with many of those he loves and begins to see his future as a pretty scary thing. In other words, he gets his act together…but not fully.

Currie borrows from enough historical happenings of the 20th century to warrant this as a fun and epic period piece of sorts—culling nostalgia from familiar true-life events of the 70s, 80s and 90s. While journeying through the Thibodeau family saga, we experience Vietnam, the space shuttle Challenger disaster, various terrorist acts, and even secret governments plots.

While Junior is a sympathetic character to a degree, Junior’s father is the most sympathetic and often heroic character. He loves in the face of most of life’s challenges, even when those challenges come from his own stupid mistakes. In a sense, he knows his inevitable doom—somewhat better than Junior without the help— but does all that he can to love and care for his troubled and dysfunctional family, albeit imperfectly.

The novel succeeds because Currie delicately balances the looming doom with the hope of love and the joy of life. He shows us that a truly enjoyable life comes from finding ways to live, not avoiding death (and in this case horrible destruction). Yes, life isn’t so bad even when you know that death is close. The book has its ups and down, its slow moments and its absurdities, but ultimately we walk away from the last pages of this book mumbling to ourselves in a deep, philosophical manner that in life “everything matters”—really.

Everything Matters is available on Amazon.

Click here to visit the author’s website.

Reviewed by David Stucki, April 2011

 


Measure the Sea

April 1, 2011

Katherine Kellogg Heflin

Lulu, 2011

173 pages, Fiction

3 1/ 2 out of 5 stars

Here’s a new book by first time author Katherine Kellogg Heflin named Measure the Sea, a story about a colony of modern-day oracles struggling with their identity and the future of their colony. This is a quick read and the plot moves swiftly. Heflin never once forgets that she’s telling a story. We’re in the modern world, where a colony of oracles in Tennessee has become a sort of tourist trap. Outsiders visit the colony in droves and pay the staff of oracles for “listens” or for a prediction of the future. The listens have such a reputation for accuracy that even the President of the United States uses these oracles for advise on foreign policy.

But this thriving society has some secrets – what is making the aging oracles lose their memory? Is the traffic from the outside world polluting their colony and causing oracles to be sickened with disease? Can the leader of the society, a sage, Obi-Wanesque woman called the Pythian be trusted to protect the colony? One member of the enclave, a teenage girl named Emory is going to get to the bottom of it even if it means a life of exile.

The writing is sound and though the characters could be a little more developed, the significance of this book is how this fictional society reflects our own. They rely on technology to make a living, and exploit the marketplace to its full potential. They plan for their future by training a new generation of oracles yet when an oracle’s skills begin to decline  and they lose their memory, these elderly citizens are sequestered in a type of retirement home where they are quickly forgotten. It’s a world where the ideals of the young threaten to supplant the traditions of the old.

Part science fiction, part teen adventure, with an activist heroine that reminds you oddly of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games books (only not as annoying), Measure the Sea is an admirable first book from Heflin. I’ve heard through the rumor mill that a sequel is underway, which is necessary because the book ends with a few story threads unresolved. Whether this be accidental or intentional, Heflin succeeds in leaving the reader wanting more.

Measure the Sea is available in paperback or download from Lulu.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, April 2011.

Mark McGinty is the award winning author of The Cigar Maker and Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy. His work has appeared in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta.


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