Someone should count how many coming-of-age novels have ever been written that focus on white, male characters. To me, it seems like every time I browse around in a bookstore and skim through the back covers of books in the “New & Hot Fiction” section, the onslaught of these story set-ups just doesn’t end. I realize that some topics never get boring, like love, betrayal, or war. But in a seemingly endless sea of new and existing stories about the teenage and early adult years of white men, it must be incredibly hard to create a story that is exciting and different.
This is where Everything Matters! comes in. Or so I thought. Based on descriptions and reviews elsewhere, I decided to override my own personal annoyance with characters like Holden Caulfield, Pip, or Adrian Healey. Hailed as a small miracle and a delightful read by reviewers at NPR or the New York Times, Everything Matters! is the story of Junior Thibodeau who is born with the knowledge that thirty-six years into his life, an asteroid will destroy the earth and all human life. Written in a quirky, rather unpredictable sequence of countdowns and changing narrative perspectives, the book follows Junior’s life from early moments in his mother’s uterus to the final moment. Junior hears a voice that tells him exactly what will happen, not just in terms of the earth’s demise, but also throughout his life. That would be unusual enough, but Junior is also portrayed as a genius who seems to be able to accomplish anything, including discovering the cure for cancer in only two weeks, if he sets his mind to it. Yet, despite these super-human abilities and an all-encompassing knowledge of the future, Junior must grapple with the fact that no matter what he manages to achieve, the world will still be destroyed.
This is what makes, or should make, Everything Matters! different than other coming-of-age stories. The plot allows for unique opportunities to explore existential questions, to play with the irony of creating a character that is capable of ending suffering from diseases, poverty or global hunger in a situation where none of that really matters. Or does it? And this is where the book falls short. Of 302 pages, only the last thirty or so actually dive into the possibilities that are set up by the story. It is here that Currie tackles, and somewhat heavy-handedly, the “why bother making an effort in life if you know it’s all going to end soon anyway?” questions. The rest of the novel very much gets lost in the sea of other coming-of-age novels. We hear too much about how Junior screws up with the love of his life, how as a result, he spends years getting drunk in cheap, dirty bars and how he still manages to be the hero for his family (and briefly also for all mankind). It’s all too familiar and too much.
Technically, the book is very unique. The narration switches back and forth between the omniscient, all-knowing narrator (the voice that Junior hears) and the various characters in the novel. The book starts with a countdown, but then abandons the countdown for large parts of the book, only to pick it up again toward the end. For someone interested in playing with structure and narration, it might be well worth the read just to see what Currie manages to come up with. However, I often felt that Currie was a bit too much into playing with technique at the expense of the story itself. There were numerous times in the book where I thought that often very bizarre sub-plots were inserted only to incorporate another writer-technicality, with little or no purpose for the content of the story. Again, it was all a little much.
All in all, I can’t say that Everything Matters! did away with my annoyance with yet another supposedly witty but deep story about some white dude in his teens and early adulthood. There is a lot of potential in the set-up to make this a different and exciting read, if Currie lost some of the showing-off of technique and the all too common features of the development of his protagonist. A few stronger female characters would be nice, too. As it stands, Everything Matters! over-promised and under-delivered for me, but I would love to see someone pick up on where the last thirty pages of the novel left off.