“Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles” by Ron Currie Jr. (Viking, 340 pages, $26.95)
Ron Currie Jr., author of the collection “God Is Dead” and the novel “Everything Matters!,” begins his new novel with a page of small type going on and on about epigraphs and how they are pretentious. Then he offers his own, quoting from the film “Rocky.”
Thus the reader begins a book that tries ever so hard to be both cute and important. Currie includes a note that his story is “capital-T True,” and he reiterates this point over and over in the course of the novel.
His repetitive claim, like his attempted cuteness, is needless. Most readers of fiction realize, I hope, that while fiction may not represent literal truth – thus the label “fiction” – it does often present truths about life, relationships, society and our world in its vast complexity.
“Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles” – the title refers to nicotine patches, which also serve as a symbol for what tethers the main character to life – is about a man, Ron Currie Jr., who heads to a small Caribbean island to write a book about the woman he loves, Emma. He also is mourning the death of his father, is bemoaning the loss of his book manuscript, which was destroyed in a fire, and is missing Emma, who has left him.
In brief, usually less-than-a-page-length sections, Currie muses about Emma, his father’s death from cancer and “the Singularity,” which is the moment when a computer “wakes up, becomes self-aware, gains consciousness.” This Singularity is for Currie the hope of mankind and a replacement for God, which the character denies or has no use for.
He goes on to tell a story that is engaging, if only he didn’t stop every so often to hammer home the point that he is enlightening us about Truth. Currie (the character) tries to commit suicide but fails, and then decides to fake his death and leave the island for the Sinai. As a result, the manuscript found in his cabin is published, and he becomes a famous, best-selling “posthumous” writer.
When, years later, he decides to come clean, his fans turn on him. He defends himself before a judge by saying that “from the perspective of a novelist there is a brand of lying that feels more honest than the actual facts of an event. … a way to move closer to the truth.”
Despite slipping at times into purple prose (“my love for her is encoded in both of us at the genetic level”) or bad grammar (“between Roberto and I”), Currie can write, particularly when he describes the death of the character’s father.
He wants to emulate Kurt Vonnegut, throwing in asides such as, “and as you can tell none of this really makes for anything resembling a coherent narrative but anyway it seemed significant in a manner I hoped to figure out but have never quite been able to, obviously, because here I am still going on about it.” Obviously.
At these points I want to say: Just tell the story. Narrative has the power to reveal truths – or Truth, as Currie wants it. But Currie doesn’t trust this; he wants to be cute and preach to us about so-called Truth.