In this tour de force of imagination, Ron Currie asks why literal veracity means more to us than deeper truths, creating yet again a genre-bending novel that will at once dazzle, move, and provoke.
The protagonist of Ron Currie, Jr.’s new novel has a problem—or rather, several of them. He’s a writer whose latest book was destroyed in a fire. He’s mourning the death of his father, and has been in love with the same woman since grade school, a woman whose beauty and allure is matched only by her talent for eluding him. Worst of all, he’s not even his own man, but rather an amalgam of fact and fiction from Ron Currie’s own life. When Currie the character exiles himself to a small Caribbean island to write a new book about the woman he loves, he eventually decides to fake his death, which turns out to be the best career move he’s ever made. But fame and fortune come with a price, and Currie learns that in a time of twenty-four-hour news cycles, reality TV, and celebrity Twitter feeds, the one thing the world will not forgive is having been told a deeply satisfying lie.
I originally mentioned Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles here on R.W.N. last month after receiving an advance copy before Christmas, and as I said I was extremely excited to dive right in – the press release and blurb gave the impression of a story unlike anything I’ve really read before, a sort of cross between autobiography, fiction and meta-fiction; with Ron Currie Jt being both the author, narrator and main character. In his foreward, Currie promises to tell what he says is ‘the capital T truth’, yet in the same paragraph calls upon the reader to define truth for themselves and to analyse what the universe really means when it deems something to be ‘true’. The novel is not 100% true, but is inspired by Curries life as a writer; the ambiguity over which bits in particular are true being the main source of intrigue and entertainment held within the story.
Unconventional, troubled, pensive and ultimately despondent, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is told through first person perspective in the past tense, and so reads as Currie himself recounting his life over the past 6 or so years. He talks of love, loss, depression, selfishness and selflessness, and the combination of events and emotions that led him to relocate to a Caribbean island, intent only on working on his second novel and trying to live without Emma, an unstable and indecisive woman with whom he has had the only ‘meaningful’ and fulfilling relationship in his life. With only sporadic contact and no guarantee of a permanent future from Emma, Currie spends his time on the island pining after her, getting drunk with the locals and ignoring his planned manuscript, instead devoting his writing time to penning an extended ‘letter’ to Emma; a novel all about her and his feelings for her and how she has affected him.
After a while on the island, Currie finds himself with an ‘accidental girlfriend’ – Charlotte, a woman who moves into his home without being asked and, in Curries own words ‘fills a space that she notices’, a space that is, was and always has been Emma’s. Currie and Charlotte carry on this odd and futile relationship for a few months before Emma finally and surprisingly gets in touch to say she is coming to the island and is ready to see and speak with Currie again. Charlotte disappears, Emma takes her place, and both her and Currie find themselves living in a painful, explosive and addictive reality in which their love is angry and beautiful and frail and powerful all at once, with none of them really knowing how to harness or tame it. After the inevitable happens and Emma leaves once more, Currie attempts suicide by driving off a pier into the sea – and this is where the novel really blurs reality and fiction, picks up pace and catapults you into a world you can barely believe in, yet is, at Currie’s repetitive insistence, the capital T truth.
Currie’s expectedly unsuccessful ‘death’ allows him to start over yet again, and this time he runs away to the middle-east, safe in the knowledge that everyone thinks him dead, and thus devoid of expectations, obligations and accountability. Unbeknownst to him, however, his unfinished manuscript of ‘Emma’s Book’ is seized by his agent and released posthumously, along with a transcript of his suicide note. The book becomes a huge hit and Currie is catapulted into worldwide fame, though he remains deliciously unaware of the fact until four years have passed, when the daughter of one of his new friends inadvertently shows him a copy of the book that she bought in the nearest town. Realizing the implications of his deceit, Currie decides to return to America and face the music, shocking the entire population and becoming accused of fraud. He stands trial to defend his decisions and uses this opportunity to talk further of truth, necessity, reality, consciousness and relativity, defending himself as best he can against his old life.
Written without chapter breaks or indication of flashbacks, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is simultaneously an easy and tough read – it draws you in and connects you to Currie on many levels, but I also found it exhausting at times to keep up with the flow of words; trawling through another persons ‘memories’ is draining and emotional and I thought the story would have benefited from a few natural breaks in prose, just so the reader could gather their thoughts and reflect on what was being said. I really enjoyed Curries ruminations on ‘The Singularity’, an idea of consciousness and scientific advancement, and would have liked more chances to ponder upon this in depth in relation to the wider background of his story. I found the first two-thirds easy enough to ‘believe’ using the truth indicators that Currie had professed, and the latter third a little more contrived and novel-like, although without losing any of the beauty of the prose.
I didn’t find it easy to like Currie’s character at times, due to the negative aspects of his personality and the way in which he was content to have his family and close friends believe him dead for four whole years, although I feel striving to ‘like’ him would be missing a point – Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles isn’t a happy novel, nor an an easy read, and Currie makes no secret of the fact that he often makes wrong decisions. The point of the novel is that you do respond to him, whether it be with disgust or respect or sympathy or approval.
In a similar way, I wasn’t keen on was the high levels of self pity or psychobabble that Currie often descended into, although I did like the references to real life events, films, books and people that permeated his introspections. I felt as though the book was challenging on purpose, provoking me as a reader to persevere with something that wasn’t all neat and tidy and at the mercy of recognizable tropes to see where I’d end up and what I thought of how I got there, and I admired this. Currie is a genius writer, that much was clear, and I think he intended parts of his novel to be disliked and disapproved of – he was, after all, telling the ‘Truth’. The fact that I still enjoyed the bits I disliked, and found myself not needing to like them shows that Currie has something very strange going on, but something really quite interesting, and something good.
So, yeah. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is weird and brilliant and unsettling and funny and sad and good. And clever. And while I’m still making up my mind about it all, you should read it. It came out yesterday (7 Feb 2013) and is published by Penguin Group VIKING.
Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the authors publicity team, working through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review. I did not receive any payment for this post, nor I am affiliated with the author or any sales of this book