Twice the apocalypse

Everything Matters! A Novel
Ron Currie Jr.
Viking Adult

Some Things That Meant the World to Me
Joshua Mohr
Two Dollar Radio

Sometimes, it just feels like the world is ending. And then sometimes the world ends. What’s a boy to do when he knows Armageddon is coming?

Ron Currie Jr., who did such awesome things with a set of interlinked short stories in his first book, God Is Dead, has written a novel that, essentially, undoes and rewrites itself in the final pages. It doesn’t matter, and it does. The real message that his protagonist, Junior Thibodeau, gets across loud and clear is that no matter what route reality takes, everything we do matters. It’s a very Zen-like attitude to take, but particularly useful when, as Junior is, you’re born knowing the details of the pending apocalypse, right down to the size of the meteor that’s going to take the planet out.

Avoiding the destruction of the Earth is never in the cards, so this isn’t a breakneck, save-the-world story. Instead, Junior saves his heart; he learns to make choices based on what matters, which is everything.

Yeah, it sounds confusing, but Currie’s writing is pleasantly direct, especially in the sections that are narrated by—what?—aliens, or gods, or Junior’s delusional mind. The reader never finds out, but these “voices” have an uncanny knack for cutting through the chase of human selfishness and getting right to the heart of life. Everything Matters! isn’t as spellbinding as God Is Dead, but it’s a lot more comforting, perhaps because Junior’s “voices” also have a penchant for forgiveness, a quality with benefits whether the world is ending or not.

Forgiveness is the message that saves Rhonda, a young man with a strange relationship to reality, from complete self-demolition in Joshua Mohr’s first novel, Some Things That Meant the World to Me. Rhonda (the name is the derogatory “girl” moniker bestowed on him by his abusive stepfather) starts out by saving a hooker from a violent client, then having a spiritual epiphany with a younger version of himself in a Dumpster in a San Francisco alley. From there, it gets weirder, as Rhonda tries to form relationships without being willing to revisit the past that left him in emotional tangles.

Mohr creates a hallucinatory world that seems reasonable, including a house that expands into a desert at times and seems like a normal, low-rent ranch style at others, as Rhonda tries to sort out how he came to be so damaged at such a young age. The basic point is that in order to go on, sometimes a little backtracking is necessary—simple, but not didactic in Mohr’s hands. The fragmented narrative works its way together inexorably, and our attention and willingness to come along is enlisted by our compassion for Rhonda, a boy as lovable as he is totally screwed up.

Both novels share an affinity for the human condition, in all its selfish, demanding, utterly human reality. In spite of what seem like downers for plot points, both Everything Matters! and Some Things That Meant the World to Me embrace and affirm the value of the lives we’re in.