Thursday, February 25, 2010

Everything Matters!, by Ron Currie, Jr.

This week I read The Total Mom Makeover for the second time because the promise of this mom being "made over" is just too tempting to resist since it didn't work the first time around (and no, not that kind of makeover). Hannah Keeley, the author who has now told me how to have The Total Mom Makeover twice, says this: “I have spent many hours lying awake at night wondering how I would get the kids evacuated if a huge meteor ever struck the earth…Irrational? Of course it is. But that does not make the threats feel any less real.” The real possibility of a meteor obliterating mankind is exactly what Ron Currie, Jr. addresses in Everything Matters!. Read this novel and you’ll be contacting The Total Mom Makeover guru to ask if she’ll share her Meteor-Hitting-the-Earth-Evacuation-Plan when she writes her next book.

Everything Matters! is a story about Junior. A name so nondescript hints to the reader that this will be no ordinary book. Junior learns the date that the world is going to be destroyed by a meteor while in his mother’s womb. He lives his life with a “voice” that gives him vital information about his life, the lives of his loved ones, and the impending doom of the earth. This voice also provides inside information that helps him understand that he is not crazy; the world really is going to be blown to pieces when he is 36 years old. The government eventually realizes that the meteor is on its way and they use Junior to help them come up with a solution to the problem, which involves escaping Earth. When the problem of the meteor is announced, many people don’t believe it is going to happen. While dealing with a problem of this magnitude, Junior deals with an alcoholic mother, the cancer of his father, the mental disability of his baseball star brother, and the intense love he has for his one and only girlfriend, Amy.

I know, I know. You are thinking that this plot belongs on the science fiction channel and you want no part of it. Think again.

I liked this book. While the reading is not complicated, the issue it explores is important and profound. Currie contrasts the mundane with the ordinary to make the point of the novel; when death is impending, we still have to deal with everyday life. Everything does matter because our time is limited. The tendency in reading this book is to brush it off as fantasy, science fiction, or just a story that does not apply to us. But it is not really all that far removed from what every human being faces every single day. Each day and hour and minute we are closer to death. The only difference between Junior and us is that we don’t know the date or time. We know we are going to die. But do we believe it? Do we live like death is a sure thing? Do we live as if we are dying? In general, I think most of us live like we are going to live forever. Consider one of Junior's thoughts: “As I’m paying I wonder at how we cling so relentlessly to the little conventions like commerce, as though they can save us. What’s the point of tallying up the total expense of my avocados and twelve-grain bread, with the end just over a year away? The point, please, of this dutiful exchange of goods and currency? People all over the world are still giving their homes a fresh coat of paint and making weekly deposits into retirements accounts. Having babies at a record pace. God help us.” In Everything Matters! the people of the world know that the world is going to end, and yet they don’t act as if they believe it. The knowledge of the day they will die does not change the way they live.

I have similar knowledge. I know I am going to die one day. But do I live as I believe that? The book did not instill a spirit of fear, but it did help me to pause and reflect on just what is important in my life. Just how differently would I act if I knew my life would end in five years, in one year, in one day, or in the next hour? It is a sobering question to ask oneself. The question brought to mind this quote from Jonathan Edwards: “Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” May this thought affect change in the way I live my life, and may it affect change in yours as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Joshua Ferris on Negative Reviews of The Unnamed

Thanks, Abby, for this link. It is Joshua Ferris' response to the less than favorable reviews he has been getting on The Unnamed, including The New York Times review that I referenced here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Short History of Women: A Novel, by Kate Walbert

I am supposed to like this novel. I am a woman, for one thing. I am a woman living in modern times, for another. I am a reader that prefers harder-to-read historical fiction over the ever-so-popular vampire books. I should like this book. I didn't.

A Short History of Women: A Novel looks at several women as the feminist movement evolved over the last century. Dorothy Townsend starves herself to death (literally) for women's suffrage. The women in her family are then portrayed in separate chapters as the author shows how they cope with being a woman in their own era. She does not do this chronologically, but jumps from the early 1900's to 2004 and then to the 1950's and then back to the early 1900's. This jumping, combined with the fact that Walbert gives the women extremely similar names, makes it difficult to keep track of whose story she is telling. It is confusing.

I'm all about persevering through hard books. After all, I kept a running list of all of the names in Anna Karenina. Tolstoy captivated me from the first page. A Short History of Women starts out with Dorothy Townsend (the suffragist) starving herself on purpose and leaving her children parent-less because "there was nothing else" she could do. This scene was strangely not captivating or motivating to me. I had to force myself to keep reading and I certainly felt no need to take notes.

I struggle with who I am supposed to be. Is it wife? Is it mother? Is it career woman? Is it housekeeper? Should I be outspoken? Should I be quiet? Should I like football? Should I stick to knitting? Am I a feminist? Am I not a feminist? Most days I think I am supposed to be all of the above, at the same time. Mentally, that's a rough place to be. I was hoping that this book would address the fact that our culture expects more from women while much of the culture still sees women as less. Ironic, isn't it? I'm on a quest to find a novel that addresses this irony well. If I don't find that novel, I'll just have a chat with my mother, who balanced all of these issues better than anyone else I know. And if remembering that fact was the only reason I read this book, the read was worth it.