Everything Matters!: A Novel

Paperback | July 27, 2010

byRon Currie

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"Startlingly talented . . . he survives the inevitable, apt comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut and writes in a tenderly mordant voice all his own." -Janet Maslin, The New York Times

In this novel rich in character, Junior Thibodeau grows up in rural Maine in a time of Atari, baseball cards, pop Catholicism, and cocaine. He also knows something no one else knows-neither his exalted parents, nor his baseball-savant brother, nor the love of his life (she doesn't believe him anyway): The world will end when he is thirty-six. While Junior searches for meaning in a doomed world, his loved ones tell an all-American family saga of fathers and sons, blinding romance, lost love, and reconciliation-culminating in one final triumph that reconfigures the universe. A tour de force of storytelling, Everything Matters! is a genre-bending potpourri of alternative history, sci-fi, and the great American tale in the tradition of John Irving and Margaret Atwood.

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From the Publisher

"Startlingly talented . . . he survives the inevitable, apt comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut and writes in a tenderly mordant voice all his own." -Janet Maslin, The New York Times In this novel rich in character, Junior Thibodeau grows up in rural Maine in a time of Atari, baseball cards, pop Catholicism, and cocaine. He also knows somet...

Ron Currie Jr. is a native of Waterville, Maine, and whose fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Sun, Other Voices and Night Train. His stories have won prizes in The World’s Best Short Story competition and have been shortlisted for the Fish International Short Story award and Swink magazine’s Emerging Writer Award. God is Dead i...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8.4 × 5.4 × 0.7 inPublished:July 27, 2010Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143117513

ISBN - 13:9780143117513

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Read from the Book

In Utero; Infancy97 First, enjoy this time! Never again will you bear so little responsibilityfor your own survival. Soon you will have to take in food and disposeof your own waste, learn the difference between night and day and acquirethe skill of sleeping. You will need to strengthen the muscles necessaryto sustain high–volume keening for long intervals. You will haveto master the involuntary coos and facial twitches which are the foundationof infantile cuteness, to ensure that those charged with caringfor you continue to provide food and clean linen. You will need to flexyour arms and legs, loll your head to strengthen the neck, crawl, staggerto your feet, then walk. Soon after you must learn to run, share,swing a bat and hold a pencil, love, weep, read, tie your shoelaces, bathe,and die. There is much to learn and do, and little time; suffice it to saythat you should be aware of the trials ahead so that you may appreciatethe effortless liquid dream of gestation while it occurs, rather thanonly in hindsight. For now, all you need to do is grow.There is one significant exception to this. You may have noticed thatyou share the womb with other objects. The most obvious and importantof these is the fleshy tether attached to your abdomen, known asthe umbilical cord. It is, quite literally, your lifeline, providing blood,nutrients, and vital antibodies, among other things. Already it haswrapped twice around your neck, and while this may not seem to you,who does not yet breathe, to be particularly dangerous or untoward, itcan imperil your entry into the world. We will not lie—it could killyou. Now, be calm. You should remain as still as possible throughoutthe rest of your gestation. While this will do nothing about the entanglementsalready constricting your neck, it will go a long way towardpreventing further looping or other complications—vasa previa, knots,cysts, hematoma. Any of these problems, by itself, is not particularlydangerous, but two or more occurring together can be big trouble, soyou should maintain perpetual vigilance against the many temptationsto move. Of course, there are some who would argue that it is unfairto ask a fetus to exercise impulse control. You, however, would do wellto avoid those who complain about life's unfairness, and instead get ahead start on building self–restraint.Light and noise present the toughest challenge to your resolve toremain still. They come to you through your mother's abdomen, andyou feel an impetus to move toward them, to stir the viscous bath ofamniotic fluid with tiny fingers and toes in an effort to absorb thewarmth of sunlight, or hear Carly Simon trill. The urge to move isnatural and understandable. As will be the case throughout your life,no matter how long or brief, the choice is, in the end, yours. Simplybear in mind that most every choice will have consequences, and in thisinstance those consequences would likely be quite grave.96 Your mother has one other child, your brother, who was a tornado inutero, so your lack of movement causes her alarm. We should mentionthat she is prone to unreasonable anxiety and nervous tension, minordisorders that have several underlying causes, not the least of which isthe verbal and physical abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of herfather. This is why she pokes at you and spends hours with a transistorradio pressed against her belly, trying to bait you into moving. Despitethe fact that her abdomen continues to grow, she wakes one night convincedyou'll be born an ashen husk, your fingers hooked forever intolifeless little claws. With this image lodged in her mind's eye she weeps,her hands laced together in a protective hugging posture under theswell of her belly. Now, a boy's aversion to upsetting his mother isamong the more primal and tenacious instincts, and so you suffer analmost irresistibly powerful urge to kick and twirl, to give unmistakableevidence of your life, to turn your mother's sobs to relieved andslightly embarrassed little hiccups of laughter. Do not yield to this instinct,or you will put your life at risk. Protecting yourself now meansyou'll have many years ahead with which to repay her grief. Besides,you can rest assured that this is not the last time you will make yourmother cry.Eventually your father's hands, along with two unscheduled visitsto the obstetrician for ultrasound and fetal monitor, soothe your mother's fears to a level she finds tolerable, and she wraps the transistor inits power cord and returns it to the closet, and stops staring for longsilent hours at the television.95 Although the biological goal of sex was achieved with conception, yourfather still has a hefty sexual appetite (as does your mother, thoughout of concern for you she will not admit it). To you his advances areterrifying. You hear him seeking entry with his tongue and other partsof his body, and your instinct is to recoil, which is perfectly normal—the perception of one's father as an omnipotent predator of great physicalstrength serves a vital function for most boys, and usually persistswell into adulthood, though paradoxically it does not seem to precludethe desperate striving after his love and approval. You try to hold fast,but a stronger, more immediate impulse toward self–preservation takeshold, and you kick against the uterine wall, pushing away from thesniffing and growling at the entrance to your home, and as you driftslowly up the umbilical cord draws tighter around your throat, and aknot forms. Your mother, feeling you stir for the first time in twomonths, smiles and invites your father in, prodding him with the heelsof her feet. They have sex, a rough pulsing in your warm world likethe addition of a third heartbeat, and in that moment when you hearyour mother moan you gain the knowledge of betrayal, what it meansbut also how it feels, and though it of course does not feel good youshouldn't be discouraged; we can tell you that no matter how long youlive, no matter how mature or philosophical you may grow to be, almostall sudden enlightenment will feel precisely this way, like a bootin the stomach, like acid on your tongue, and the sooner you accept thisthe better off you'll be. In fact, you should be glad—at your age, to haveunderstood and assimilated an abstract yet acutely painful concept suchas betrayal is, in a word, prodigious. It indicates you have a better thanaverage chance to succeed at the task for which you have been chosen.94 Now the danger to you is quite grave. With the development of a knot,the umbilical cord will not tolerate any more tension. You must stayput. Having felt you move, from here on your mother will find everyexcuse to have sex, and you will have to suffer in absolute stillness.Your life depends on it.93 Still, when she isn't locked in sexual contortions your mother is thesafest, most comfortable home you can imagine. And since the likelihoodthat she will be the only home you'll ever know has increasedexponentially, you should make an effort, when not cowering fromyour father's incursions, to enjoy every moment here.92 One small, positive development in all this burgeoning trouble is youare nearing the end of gestation, and due to a precisely timed infusionof hormones you want to move around less as you approach your birth.Slowly you roll one last time, until you are fully inverted and in positionto emerge from the womb. As a bonus, your father begins to findyour mother less and less sexually appealing. It's not your mother'ssize that repulses him, but rather her distended navel, which juts everlonger from her belly like a severed finger regenerating itself. He triesnot to look at it but inevitably can't help himself, and when the waveof disgust comes over him he feels ashamed and emasculated all at once,though of course he would not admit this even if he could. Thusyou are left in peace to gather your strength, every ounce of which youwill need, especially since, as we'd feared, the obstetrician did not detectthe knot in your umbilical cord. Had the knot been noticed, he almostcertainly would have opted for a cesarean delivery, therebyreducing the danger to both you and your mother. As it stands, with avaginal delivery planned, things are likely to be hard, protracted, andquite dangerous.91 Soon the day comes. Your mother knows in the morning; she has sleptfitfully, and as she rises and waddles to the bathroom she feels themilder contractions begin like seismic tremors in the small of her back.You know, too. You sense the swish and shift and though you can't haveany idea yet what it means, you're still not sure that you like it. Forone thing, your mother begins, by and by, to scream, and you're certainyou don't like that, trapped as you are inside the amphitheater ofher belly. For another, the shift portion of the swish and shift causesyour umbilical cord to draw even tighter, spurring your first experiencewith physical pain. Your mother's screams rise an octave, and the warmfluid in which you have spent your entire life flushes away, replacedby slick undulating walls equal to the fluid in warmth but hard, insistent,pressing from all sides, pushing you down, down, inexorably downand out of your home forever, and now you are certain you don't likethis at all because no one likes change unless it is from something badto something good, and besides the umbilical knot and loops have cutthe flow of blood both from your placenta and to your brain, bad troubleindeed. Your heart slows, and the pinprick of consciousness growshazy, fading from red to pink to gray. Something's wrong, your motherwails to the doctor and nurses. They ignore her; they are the experts,after all, they have done this a thousand times, and your mother is inpain and exhausted and probably not thinking right and should leaveit to them. Your father tries to quiet her with a kiss, his lips and anyreal comfort they might offer trapped behind the minutely porous shellof a surgical mask. The delivery team goes on ignoring your mother'spleas until the image of you, stillborn, stiff and blue and twisted, returnsto her, and she screams at them loud and long enough to be heardtwo floors down, in Oncology. At the same moment the fetal heartmonitor sounds a frantic alarm, and its display of your pulse—dangerouslylow and still dropping—begins to flash. There is a great and suddenhustle. Hypodermic shots are administered; trays of gleaming steelinstruments are deployed. By the time they pull you, purplish and limp,through the new orifice in your mother's abdomen, you are unconscious.Your expression—eyes closed but not clenched, face perfectlyrelaxed, tiny mouth agape—is one of perfect neutrality. This is the expressionyou should wear for all your life, no matter how long or briefit is, so that no one, not even you, will ever know whether you are inecstasy or anguish.The doctor and nurses place you on a tiny table nearby and set towork, pressing with fingertips on your chest, suctioning your nose andmouth, and eventually they succeed in reviving you. You're moved toa protective plastic box and tethered to life by tubes, wires, adhesivesboth high– and low–tech, hollow needles the diameter of a strand ofyour father's hair. Despite the harsh lights and the stinging prick of theneedles, this new home is not so unlike the old one. You are swaddledin piles of soft blankets, connected and held fast by the tubes and wires.For a few days your situation is what's called "touch and go." Your parentsreceive a quick overview, complete with pamphlets and sympatheticembraces, of the myriad developmental problems that may cropup but are by no means, it is repeated time and again, a foregone conclusion.For now, let them worry about these things; they are the adults,your shepherds, and as adults it is their responsibility to suffer theknowledge of threats they neither understand nor can do a thing about.You have but one job, comparatively simple: surviving.90 And it seems, eventually, that you will do just that. Your body temperatureand blood pressure rise, your heart rate stabilizes, and yourlungs begin to inflate on their own. Soon, to your dismay, the tubesand wires are removed, one by one, and you are taken from the incubator,forced once again to relinquish the safety of your cocoon, thoughyou are allowed, as a small consolation, to keep the blankets. Do not beupset. These are all signs that the danger has passed, that your life hasbegun in earnest—you've become a person, fully formed, autonomousand self–sustaining.89 And with this happy occasion comes the task we spoke of earlier, a lifelongproposition which is likely to seem a burden to you, but which weencourage you to try to think of as a privilege, a great honor. First,though, you need to understand this truth:Although to you we may seem quite knowledgeable, even omniscient,we in fact know only one thing for certain, which is this: thirty–six years,one hundred sixty–eight days, fourteen hours, and twenty–three secondsfrom now, on June 15, 2010, at 3:44 p.m. EST, a comet that has brokenaway from the Kuiper Belt near Neptune will impact the Earth with theexplosive energy of 283,824,000 Hiroshima bombs.That's it. We don't know anything else. For example, we have no ideaif you will live long enough to witness this phenomenon. There arethings we can surmise, though, one being that if you are still alive whenthe comet hits, neither you nor anything else on the planet will be afterward.All of which raises the question—your task, burden, privilege,call it what you like—a question which men and women, great andnot–so, of every color, creed, and sexual persuasion have asked sincethey first had the language to do so, and probably before:Does Anything I Do Matter?It is our hope that, with knowledge of the epic disaster to come andthe advantage of our continued assistance, you will have greater successat answering this question than those who have come before you.And we wish you much good luck.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONMost people experience a sense of existential dread at some point in their lives, a vague and often unarticulated anxiety about the purpose of struggle in the face of inevitable death. But for Junior Thibodeau, the protagonist of Everything Matters!, that dread is anything but vague; and it is fully articulated from the moment he is born. Junior is gifted and cursed with the certain knowledge of how and when the world will end, and that knowledge forces him to directly confront the great philosophical questions that have always been the abstract, if profoundly important, preoccupations of the human mind. What is morality? What is love? Does anything I do matter?Author Ron Currie, Jr. seamlessly blends science fiction with domestic drama. Junior’s unique dilemma is set against a small New England town and a family with a legacy of alcoholism and abuse. The narrative switches perspectives, from Junior’s family members and his lifelong love, Amy, to Junior himself, to the omniscient and unexplained voice in Junior’s brain. We learn that the Thibodeau clan is resilient and loving despite each member’s individual trauma or grief, and though that love is expressed torturously or not at all, it is strong enough to push the adult Junior to incredible heights of self-sacrifice and moral reckoning.Currie employs literary devices not usually found in the same book: multiple narrators and dual endings; international espionage; and a sense of suspense that builds throughout the book despite a certain and inevitable conclusion announced in the first chapter. The nature and function of important characters switch unexpectedly, often as the result of an eruption of the violence that is always hovering around the edges of their lives. But perhaps the most surprising contradiction in this novel is that in grappling with the futility of existence and the certainty of death, Junior ultimately finds that despite all logic, everything—love, grief, joy, pain, and the most mundane activities—does, in fact, matter.ABOUT RON CURRIE, JR.Ron Currie, Jr.’s first book, God Is Dead, won 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! will be translated into a dozen languages, and is a July 2009 Indie Next Pick and Amazon Best of June 2009 selection.He lives in Waterville, Maine.A CONVERSATION WITH RON CURRIE, JR.Q. Who or what is the “voice” in Junior’s head? Did you ever want to reveal its identity, or did you always plan to leave that question unanswered?I deliberately left the question open. It never seemed a good idea for a reveal—the story is busy enough, and to assign a name to the presence in Junior’s head would compromise its power as metaphor. Plus I like leaving big things up to the reader to decide for him- or herself. Too much of what I read lately panders and handholds, and as a consequence I think some readers have become conditioned to want to have every last detail of a story explained ad nauseam. There’s real, sublime pleasure in being allowed to filter a story through your own consciousness and fill in key blanks for yourself.Q. How did the idea for this novel originally come to you?Enough time has passed since I wrote the first few chapters and set it aside to write God Is Dead—six or seven years—that it’s awfully hard to say. I do know that originally the concept was for a sort of instruction manual written in the second person. The idea was to ape the style and format of old books of etiquette. But that was a horrible idea, turns out. Imagine having to slog through three or four hundred pages of nothing but that. The conceit would fall completely apart. So I knew I wanted to salvage the original approach, but there had to be another way to relate the story of these peoples’ lives that was more emotionally immediate. This was when I decided to write from alternating points of view in the first person.Q. Did you ever write or imagine a draft in which Junior actually succeeds in stopping the Destroyer of Worlds, actually saving the world?I considered it, of course, but that would have been a cop-out. The whole point is that Junior needs to learn to accept and live with the eventual end of his life and everything he loves. Further, he needs to learn that no amount of struggling against that eventual doom will result in a different outcome, except that when it comes he’ll be alone and spent and heartbroken. Really Junior is sort of immature in his obsession with the Destroyer of Worlds, because the only difference between him and everyone else on the planet—each of whom comes to understand at some point in their life that we’re all hurtling inexorably toward oblivion—is that he knows his expiration date. And it cripples him. Most of us move forward in the face of our own certain knowledge, frightening and discouraging as it is.Q. There is a strain of violence throughout the book: children suffer physical abuse, adults are mutilated, graphically described illness strikes people of all ages. What is the function of violence in this story?The same function it has in real life—it’s a tremendous force that results in dramatic changes in both a person’s life and personality. Violence is partly responsible for turning John Sr. into the unflappable family man he is throughout the story. The memory of violence causes Debbie to descend into alcoholism so deeply that it resembles catatonia. Violence committed against Amy grants her the defiance and determination that are the hallmarks of her makeup, particularly when she’s faced with difficult choices or hardship.Q. Considering the nature of your characters’ dilemmas, they seem surprisingly uninterested in religion. And your last book was titled God Is Dead. Why no mention of religion here?Well, Debbie is devout, even at the apex of her addiction. I think the other characters’ lack of faith and piety reflect the sort of casually theistic society America seems to have become (shrill right-wingers notwithstanding; they’re still a minority, no matter how vocal). Most people I know sort of believe in god, but god as an indefinite concept, perhaps not even an entity, and certainly not a bearded man in the sky. A society in which one can choose a religion by flipping through the yellow pages is bound to spawn these types of people in large numbers, and the book reflects that.Q. There are a number of references in your book to 1980s pop culture. Do you think the touchstones of that era have a special relevance to this story and the timeless questions it asks?I’m not sure about a special relevance. Certainly because the childhood of the main character occurs during the 80’s, it makes sense that we’d see things like cocaine and Spuds MacKenzie popping up here and there. The eighties spared no one, after all, not even Bob Dylan. More than the popular culture, though, I think the dark underside of the go-go eighties, of Reagan’s America, where huge swathes of people (including the Thibodeaus) were left behind financially while a small segment of the population was getting grotesquely wealthy—that certainly has a special relevance to the story.Q. Certain events of the 80s and 90s—the Challenger explosion, the Oklahoma City bombing—are important turning points in Junior’s young life. Did these particular events affect you in a profound way?Oh, sure. I was preternaturally sensitive to the big events of my childhood, though I had no better understanding of them than the average kid, I don’t think. I can remember planning a fort in the woods with a friend of mine for when the Libyans invaded circa 1986. This was around the time of the pissing match between Reagan and Gaddafi (remember how no one could reach a consensus on how to spell his name?) over international waters off the Libyan coast. So there we were, convinced the Libyans were going to invade the United States, going over plans on the playground for a sort of fallback shelter in the woods. There was a Rambo knife involved, too, if memory serves.Q. Junior’s brother Rodney transforms from a “smart, and cunning, and mischievous” nemesis to a simple and guileless friend. His ignorant bliss contrasts sharply with Junior’s tortured brilliance. Why did you choose these dichotomies in creating Rodney’s character and portraying his relationship with Junior?Rodney functions as Junior’s foil throughout their lives. First, he’s the typical older brother—bullying, jealous of the divided attentions of their mother. After the brain injury, Rodney’s happiness and serenity, when contrasted with Junior’s desperate unhappiness, serve as an omnipresent reminder that, as Junior himself says, “Smart’s got nothing to do with it.”Q. The style of punctuation changes with the narrator throughout the book—sometimes quotation marks are used in the dialogue, sometimes paragraph breaks, and sometimes nothing at all. Was that something you decided on when you began writing the novel? Why?It’s a simple and effective way to convey voice. Also pretty dangerous, but I like taking chances. That’s the sort of fiction I enjoy reading: the kind of writing that isn’t afraid to crash and burn. All these quiet, austere, studiously perfect narratives I see celebrated time and again—they’re fine for what they are, but I don’t get a sense that even the authors felt they were necessary. There’s no risk, no anima.Q. We only hear from Debbie, Junior’s mother, in the first half of the book, after which her alcoholism and depression are chronicled by those around her. Why does she fall silent? After a certain point early in the story, Debbie has no inner monologue that would make sense on the page, let alone move the story forward. She is way beyond an unreliable narrator. She’s in a sort of stasis, and so in order for the reader to understand what’s going on with her he has to be informed through others. By the time Debbie is well enough to speak for herself again, that part of the story is over.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhen the end of the world is announced (in the first version of Junior’s life), some people decide to stay on their doomed planet instead of heading to another; some stick their heads in the sand and refuse to accept this new reality; some, like Junior, pragmatically plan their departures. What do you think you would do?Junior ultimately decides, in his “second life,” to focus on improving a doomed existence rather than attempting to escape it; he even encourages his daughter to campaign for an environment he knows will soon be destroyed. Do you think this was the right choice? Did you prefer the first ending, in which he worked feverishly to save himself, his father, and his world?When presented with the opportunity to go back and “choose his own adventure,” his best self among millions of possibilities, Junior chooses the same life with one important difference, one decision to un-make. Do you think this plot twist helps the novel succeed as a literary work?Which of the multiple narrators did you most enjoy hearing from? Which did you like the least?How does Junior’s relationship with his family affect his decisions and, ultimately, the fate of the world?Were you surprised at the turn Junior’s life took after high school when Amy left and he began his downward spiral? What were you expecting for him as a young adult at that point in the novel?In Chicago, Junior meets Reggie, an unstable multiple-amputee with murderous ambitions. What role do you think Reggie plays in Junior’s life? Why does Junior come so close to participating in Reggie’s plan and why does he back out?Perhaps the most content character in this novel is Rodney after his brain is damaged by an early drug addiction. Do you think ignorance is really bliss?Amy is uncertain about whether to leave Earth even after she knows it will be destroyed until Ralph, the old man they meet in the wilderness, convinces her to go. What do you think it is about her encounter with Ralph that ultimately convinces her?The novel’s argument is announced in its title: Everything matters. Did the author convince you of this conclusion?

Editorial Reviews

" Like Kurt Vonnegut, Currie understands that . . . humor is a more powerful salt than screed." -San Francisco Chronicle "Mr. Currie is a startlingly talented writer whose book will pay no heed to ordinary narrative conventions.... He survives the inevitable, apt comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut and writes in a tenderly mordant voice of his own.... Throughout the story there is the sheer delight of Mr. Currie's fresh, joltingly funny imagery.... Above all "Everything Matters!" radiates writerly confidence. The excitement that drives the reader from page to page is not about the characters. It's about seeing what Mr. Currie will try next." --Janet Maslin, New York Times