Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles: A Novel
- By Ron Currie Jr.
- 352 pp.
- Reviewed by Amanda Holmes Duffy
- March 11, 2013
Loss, love, and the line between truth and fiction.
Ron Currie Jr.’s first book, God Is Dead, won the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. His second, Everything Matters!, was an Indie Next Pick and one of Amazon’s Top Books of 2009. How did I miss them? Because his third novel, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, had me hooked before I even got to the first page.
In a footnote on the title page, Currie asks us to consider how much our interest is piqued by reading something “based on real events.” Then, teasing out the difference between truth and fiction, he goes on to suggest that “your life, or at least the narrative you have of it in your head, is ‘based on real events’ rather than objectively true. In any case,” he says,“if you, like me, get goose bumps whenever you encounter those magic words, I encourage you to keep turning pages, because I promise, on my father’s grave, that this is exactly the sort of story you’ll find in this book.”
Next comes an epigraph page, or rather the one that would carry an epigraph if Currie believed in them. I was already laughing halfway through this disclaimer, so his encouragement to keep turning pages was unnecessary. The rest of the pages turned themselves.
Currie’s protagonist is a character named Ron Currie. He’s a writer who seeks Truth with a capital T. The public never forgives a lie, he maintains, especially if it really moves them. That’s why Ron Currie hasn’t written a word since the publication of his last novel, which owed its success to the assumption that the author had in fact committed suicide.
This book is going to set the record straight. Mourning the death of his father and trying to get over a split with his lover, Emma, Currie moves to a Caribbean island to write. He’s a hard drinker and a skilled and successful seducer of women, and in between writing sessions, he gets into several serious brawls with the locals. Later, he fakes his own death and moves to the Sinai Peninsula. But how close this fictional Ron Currie is to the author is impossible to say. Though it’s a provocative twist, in the end, it doesn’t really matter because you absolutely believe him as the narrator.
The novel is delivered in brief installments, which range in length from two or three sentences to a few short pages. The structure works well, and the writing is fresh and authentic. Currie can be funny, clever, insightful, and gut-wrenching all at once.
Take this passage, about his dying father:
“Maybe a week before my father died I broke down in front of him for the first and last time. I’d cried while he was sick, of course, but never in the same room with him. If I felt a jag coming on I’d go to the bathroom, or make up some reason why I suddenly and urgently had to leave. But that day I just gave in, went to my knees on the carpet in front of the La-Z-Boy he pretty much lived in those last months, put my face in his lap, soaked his pant legs with tears and snot. And he uncharacteristically put a hand on my head and let it rest there. And he quite characteristically said, Come on, now, stop. I’m not dead yet.”
But the central preoccupation of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is a woman. Currie knows women and writes them wonderfully. He paints a sweet picture of 16-year-old Nooria when the novel takes us to Sinai. He’s equal parts cruel and funny about Charlotte, the college student who attaches herself to him with very little encouragement: “the very picture of studied apathy, limbs limply askew and face expressive as a chunk of marble.”
The woman at the heart of the book, and the most fascinating character by far is Emma, with whom he’s been obsessed since high school. The book focuses mostly on his effort to understand why he can’t get over her, but his agony never grows tiresome. Even when things are going well, he can’t fully possess her:
“She can be sitting across from you at a table in a nice dining room somewhere and the expression on her face changes suddenly and she disappears, is in a very real and unmistakable way no longer there. You always find yourself reaching for her an instant too late, and grasping at smoke.”
There’s nothing nebulous, though, about his portrait of Emma. It’s both cerebral and deeply physical. They can’t stop hurting each other and can’t leave each other alone. “We punched and clawed at each other, fought like animals…Neither of us seemed to know why we did it.” There’s a lot of rough sex, and Currie takes many beatings, whether fighting Emma or the “hulking home-tatted cabron” nicknamed Ajax, a local thug who takes the heart out of him.
Interspersed with the narrative about the loss of his father and Emma are several provocative musings on the Singularity — that theoretical merger between humanity and super-intelligent technology. According to Currie, this will mark the end of human suffering. “You loathe the thought, I know,” he writes at one point. “You tremble and ululate, clutch misery to your chest, guard it tooth and claw. You are as attached to suffering as a child is to its blankie. But not me. Not anymore.”
Sorry, I’m not buying it. Maybe you can beat the man up, but you’ll never destroy a heart as big as Currie’s — even in the Singularity. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is all heart — and it’s painful and witty and absolutely original. The only thing I don’t like is the title. There’s nothing flimsy, nothing little, and nothing in the least bit plastic about this unflinching and captivating novel.
Amanda Holmes Duffy is a fiction writer who blogs at www.irrelevanceofhope.blogspot.com. Her latest short story will appear in the 2013 issue of Northern Virginia Review.