I was going to write this piece about A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, which is also a very good book, one that I loved, and one I recommend you read. I recently Netflixed “Apocalypse Now,” which for some reason I had never seen before, and the ending of that film reminded me of the ending of this book, which is to say they both involved the jungle and the darkness of the human soul and, in general, how life is not even remotely fair, and a lot of times quite terrible.
And then I was thinking about how hard it is to write a book with an unhappy ending these days, or rather, how hard it is to write a book with an unhappy ending and hope to get it published. Maybe it’s because the people who are making the decisions believe that people don’t want to think anymore. Maybe they’re right, but I hope they’re not.
Because then I was thinking about how it is really important that we have books and movies and art and music that are sad or tragic or full of doom so that we have some perspective, and can then appreciate when things are good because we have a deeper understanding of when things are bad, and also perhaps feel more connected to the universe at large because now we know we are not alone when we feel bad, that there are other people out there who suffer too.
Something like that. Was what I was going to write.
But then I read Ron Currie, Jr.’s Everything Matters! which sort of says all that in a really exquisite way, without, of course, saying it at all. And somehow he made an unhappy ending feel sort of happy which is sort of magical and enviable. He said what I wanted to say, and did what I wanted to do. I’d shake his hand if I met him.
Holy cow, did I love this book. I loved the concept: on the day super genius/prophet Junior is born he learns exactly when the world will end (approximately 36 years later), and the book follows his life leading up to that point. And I loved the execution: poignant writing, very, very funny writing, buoyed by a mixture of voices – from the voices in Junior’s head, to the voices of his family and loved ones – all of which were deftly captured. Also I love all things apocalyptic in general, because as a child I, just like Junior does in the book, watched a movie about nuclear war on TV – in my case the 1983 classic “The Day After” – and it changed my brain forever. I am not always thinking about when the world is going to end on a daily basis or anything, but those kinds of stories trigger a bizarre pleasure center in my brain.
So I might be biased, but I think I can recognize a good book when I see it. Everything Matters! is sharp and funny and, dare I say, an important book to read, if at the very least because it reminds you that we have a purpose on this planet, which maybe we don’t hear a lot of these days. Pilots land planes gracefully in the Hudson, ex-presidents retrieve captured journalists in foreign countries. Doctors save lives, aid workers feed the hungry. For some people, it’s so obvious. For the rest of the planet, we might need to read a book to remind us.