This book is like Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain’s relationship. When it’s good, it’s grand, when it’s bad, it’s awful. I think every girl wants to be Emma in Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr. (Thank you, Penguin for the advanced reader’s copy). She’s the woman that the main character desperately and blindly loves for the entirety of his life. No matter what young coed happens to pop into his life on a drunken night, what island he moves to, or what desert village he finds himself in halfway through the book, he’s still in love with Emma. In fact, he’s so in love with Emma, we get 352 pages about Emma.
If you’re into love stories that aren’t always “happily-ever after” and are more the real-life played-out dramas that feature, then here it is. WARNING | GENERALITY: I think every woman has Emma tendencies. People hold on to those first loves when they’re young enough to doodle that person’s name in flowery script along the edges of their college ruled. What girl didn’t write, “Mrs. Edward Cullen,” “Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy,” “Mrs. Heathcliff (unknowable first name).” I’ve never known a guy who talked about his first love in too-nice of words, but Ron seems to have a heart about him.
The part I found the most connection with though was when Ron discussed his father. I thought these parts of the story were particularly moving and really captured the essence of a family in turmoil over a devastating disease. I’ve never been close to a family member who had cancer, but I can find myself becoming obsessed with the body of it. When my grandmother had her stroke, I would find myself staring at her skin. I always wanted to write out her skin, the purple bruises and the webbed veins. As a child, you know veins as shadows under skin, but when you see them rise to the surface like expensive and painful lace, it’s hard to disregard the illness. I knew what it meant to have a stroke because I could look at my grandmother and see the way her body was becoming inside-out. We use these metaphors to make connections between what we already know and what we have yet to discover. There’s only one way to feel something and that’s to feel it, but the next best thing is to see it and try to gather something from the swell.
However, what did bother me about this book was the post-modern novel narrator. Can we get over this: “am I the author or the narrator” thing soon? Why does it matter? If you write the memoir, write the memoir as if it were incredibly good fiction and not your actual life. OR on the other hand, write the fiction as if this was some person’s incredibly interesting life. Do we really have to play the game of “Is Emma real” and “Does Ron Currie, Jr. the character actually love a girl in ‘real-life’ named Emma?” Excuse me if I say that fiction is my real-life people, they blur more than occasionally. I understand Ron (which is also my father’s name) was trying to write this book as if it’s the third Emma book in a string of two and therefore a series of books on one woman in her mid-life that is making one man in his mid-life a little insane.
I mean, the guy ends up moving to a shack beside the Red Sea. The Red Sea to me is some distant sea on a map that makes me imagine a sea of blood. I can’t help myself. I know it should be more than that as I am American and America likes to dirty their hands with countries and businesses that are not ours and also because that is a predominant oil region and I drive an unfortunately oil-mannered car. Honestly, it was at this point in the novel when my suspension as a reader was totally corrupted. What man moves to the Red Sea (without ruining any of the plot for you) over a woman? Is this why this is fiction? Now albeit, my best friend did move to New Zealand for a guy, but everyone at the time, thought she was insane. Maybe this is just the fate of all people who move for love and heartbreak to foreign places?
This post is making me look like a bigot.
While researching, I did find this Nat Geo on the sister seas of Saudi Arabia. Exquisite!
This Red Sea business isn’t even the half of it.
The worst part of this book and I mean epically bad is this “singularity” business. We’re all going to become machines, making Dolly look like a quack scientist’s work. The “singularity” will be this period of time when people are finally able to not be bound by their body, but instead by their mind. I really enjoyed making the connection between the singularity and his father. I think it’s really interesting for me to think about my grandmother’s stroke as if she had a stroke of the mind (which she obviously did) and what it would be like for me if her body wasn’t touched by the stroke, just her speech. However, it interrupted the flow of the narrative. This was not a science fiction story and I understand that Ron Currie, Jr. has been someone who writes about the after-life, but it took me completely out of the novel when I was reading these small insights of extra-terrestrial futuristic advice and longing.
Maybe this is just a book that’s ahead of itself. (Or maybe I just need to get better at science fiction).
Now, this is not to say that I don’t recommend this book. I’m more than mildly obsessed with the fact that the publisher accepted the book with so much white space. I wish Currie took his white space a bit more seriously, but there’s 352 pages that could have easily been 160. I also really liked the fact that this was a social commentary on the love story down to the author/narrator juxtaposition.
He says, “And I was no better. Like everybody else, I had trembled my whole life for something true. I had hidden, and called it living” (270). I think this is the real fruit of the book. We are all living these lives dreaming that we’re something else, or someone else.
Joe B., the NC Poet Laureate came to speak to my classes today, he was wonderful. He said something really poignant though, I thought. He said to my students, “when you’re listening to those words through your headphones and all these words coming at you everyday, do you ever say to yourself, ‘I have some words to say.’ And if you do, what are those words?” My students all wrote down three words against their will, just like they do when I ask them to write something and they make guttural noises and turn their necks into their desks like cranes. But then they spoke these secret dreams they have, “no more poverty, more justice, fame, more girls, etc.” And Joe B said to them, “This is your best self. This is the good you that you hide away and dream.”