Ron Currie Jr. has lived most of his life in his hometown of Waterville. He could move to Brooklyn, N.Y., San Francisco or some other big city where his talents would likely be more obviously appreciated, but why? He graduated from Waterville High School and Colby College. He likes his friends. He likes his neighborhood bars. He likes Waterville’s unpretentious nature, and besides, he doesn’t like big cities. Waterville is home.
“If I spend more than a few days in a big city like New York, the skin on the back of my neck starts to crawl,” said Currie, 37. “But, conversely, I don’t want to go full country. That also freaks me out. So this is perfect.”
Most importantly, however, Waterville facilitates his ability to write passionate, funny, gleefully neurotic, brutally honest and, at times, fantastical fiction, as in his three novels, “God is Dead,” “Everything Matters” and his latest, “Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles,” released this month by The Viking Press.
While on the surface, his life might appear unassuming, the Ron Currie that exists in his books is anything but. The main character of “Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles” is Currie himself, or, at least, a stylized version of him, as he navigates several traumatizing events in his life; namely, the dissolution of his relationship with the woman of his dreams and the death of his father. The line between Real Ron and Book Ron is incredibly blurry. Is Real Ron the one that gets into drunken brawls on tiny Caribbean islands? Is Book Ron the one who believes that soon the robots will attain consciousness and come to rule us all?
“It’s better to not know,” said Currie. “I purposely leave it vague.”
Artificial intelligence, bar fights, intense self-reflection, writing, love and death are just some of the themes present in “Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles.” This book, along with his previous efforts, display a kind of kitchen sink approach to narrative. If it furthers the story, if it adds flavor and depth and excitement, Currie will mix it in, be it unsentimental depictions of sex, or achingly intimate passages about the sad, slow death of his father.
“I think one of my strengths as a novelist is the frenetic energy of my prose and of my stories. I’d rather have it be messy and vibrant than really structured,” said Currie. “It’s very intuitive. I just see where it takes me. … If you use the metaphor of it being a house for your mind, for me, writing is about clearing out the clutter and replacing the burned out lightbulbs so my subconscious can do what it does.”
Both “Flimsy” and his previous book, “Everything Matters,” thrive on that energy, and both books display an overarching preoccupation with the apocalypse. In “Everything” it’s the asteroid that’s unstoppably hurtling toward Earth; in “Flimsy,” it’s the encroaching technological singularity, in which artificial intelligence becomes a reality. Currie traces his obsession to a childhood fear of the Cold War-era threat of nuclear war.
“I realized part of the reason I’m so preoccupied by apocalypse is that, first off, I think as a species we’re hardwired to think about it,” said Currie. “But I take it a step further. As a kid, I was so hyper aware of the dangers at the end of the Cold War. I had an outsized fear of it for my age. I was preoccupied. I always used to imagine the whole, ‘This could be it’ thing. And that can cause a concurrent fetish, as you get older.”
The big, difficult stuff is levied, however, by an even more pervasive brand of mordant humor. Book Ron might be an alcoholic, full of self-loathing and bent on self-destruction and massively depressed about losing his beautiful but unattainable girlfriend Emma, but Book Ron will more than almost anything make you laugh. Laugh out loud while reading, in fact.
“There’s a quote about Vonnegut that reads, ‘When we read Vonnegut, we laugh in self defense.’ That’s how I like to use humor. It makes the pill go down,” said Currie. “And my stories would be so bleak without it. They’d be unreadable.”
Currie’s debut, “God is Dead,” is a perfect example of humor balancing what’s an otherwise heavy-duty story. In that book, Currie makes God incarnate in human form — a woman in Darfur, to be exact — and when the woman is killed, it changes the way humanity operates. A big, troubling premise to be sure, but told in an entertaining, gutsy way. Same with “Everything Matters,” an even more fantastic story about a pair of brothers in rural Maine, one of whom is a baseball star, the other of whom is a mad genius with supernatural abilities.
In some ways, “Flimsy” is his least fantastic book — a raw, intimate blend of memoir and fiction. Currie wrote it while sequestered away on the unnamed Caribbean island featured in the book, as well as in Maine. In that isolation, his mind can wander, can create strange scenarios, can connect unusual plot twists and make what might sound crazy sound real.
“My creative process requires a kind of self-delusion, which is that while I’m composing it I’m not consciously aware that anyone’s going to read it,” said Currie. “It’s in my nature to write the most whacked out, unlikely, fantastical narratives that come to mind, and removing myself allows me to do that.”
So far, Currie has met with a great deal of critical praise for his works — the New York Times called him “startlingly talented,” the Kirkus Review said “Flimsy” was both “moving and hilarious,” and he was awarded in 2009 the Metcalf Award for young writers of great promise from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The way he talks about it, however, it’s letting the book out into the wild that is his least favorite part of the process.
“When the publishing process starts, that’s when I start to freak out,” he said. “That’s when I start to feel a little uncomfortable. That’s why Maine suits me. I’m left to my own devices.”
Ron Currie Jr. will be featured in conversation with author Bill Roorbach at a benefit reading for flood-damaged Longfellow Books in Portland, at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Space Gallery in Portland. Also featured will be authors Richard Russo and Monica Wood.