‘Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles’ Tries to Speak Truths — But Which Truths?

Ron Currie Jr.'s smart, funny writing is overshadowed by an ambitious reach that falls short.

The narrator of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles begins by promising that everything he’s about to tell us is the absolute truth, and ends by insisting there is no such thing as absolute truth. The narrator shares a name with Ron Currie Jr., the author of the book, and it is deliberately unclear how much the two Ron Curries have in common. The one thing they share for certain is a sense of having been ruined by an obsessive, all-consuming love for a woman, who is named Emma in the story.

The narrator tells us that he wrote a book about Emma, which became his most famous novel after he faked his own death. The public indignation at the discovery that his death was a hoax has instilled in him, he claims, a near-phobia of speaking untruths. But the bulk of the story takes place before the publication of the Emma-novel, on an unnamed Caribbean island where the narrator considers himself to be in exile. He fights with the locals, works on his writing, thinks about his father (who recently died of cancer) and uses women and alcohol as sedatives. He blames his ruination entirely on his longing for Emma, and neglects to apportion blame to his alcoholism and depression, which he sees as purely transitory, a result of his heartbrokenness.

His obsession is pitiable only insofar as it is pathetic. His description of Emma, which he intends to be powerful and poetic, is so nauseatingly cliché that it jumps out from the otherwise witty prose like an off-step dancer in a kick-line:

Her loveliness, witnessed, exposes language for the woefully limited mode of communication that it is. Nevertheless, I am always compelled to try and explain: she’s objectively and undeniably beautiful. She’s self-possessed, successful, whip-smart, often an enigma… I think we all intuited that she was impossible to have, and paradoxically that’s why every man who happened into her orbit kept trying… We all tried, and tried again, steering ship after ship into the rocks…

His ruminations on Emma and women in general reveal an archaic naïveté: “[M]en’s appetites and preoccupations tend to be simple, obvious; whereas women, at least from the simple perspective of a man, are complex and mysterious creatures. When a man sees a beautiful woman and thinks he wants to fuck her, what he’s actually after is that mystery.”

At the point in the novel when these words are written, there is as yet no distance between the author and the narrator, a fact that robs these descriptions of their potential irony. The narrator offers these assertions as wisdom; does the author offer them as evidence of that narrator’s immaturity?

The impossibly-beautiful-but-damaged-and-unattainable Mythic Woman is a character most of us are deeply familiar with and deeply tired of reading about. Fortunately, Currie-the-author shows some awareness that Currie-the-narrator does not possess. Unfortunately, this awareness is revealed too late in the book to pay off.

The fall-out from exposure of the narrator’s faked death, to which the book should have been building up, is anticlimactic and comprises only the last 40 pages of the book. It’s one thing for a character to fail to surmount his obstacles, but by linking author to narrator in a work of fiction, Ron Currie Jr. creates a meta-narrative, the value of which should consist in its friction with and deviation from the main narrative. But there is no such friction, and the meta-narrative fails, along with the protagonist, and is thereby rendered superfluous.

The writing itself is expressive and intelligent, and there are moments of true insight, as Currie the narrator’s depressive musings are wry and recognizable to those familiar with depression, grief, or both. He looks forward to what he calls “The Singularity”, when all machines will become self-aware. After that point, he surmises that human consciousness as it exists in nature will become obsolete.

What if you could program yourself to be happy, to love perfectly, every day? One could argue that humans are made to seek out and solve problems, and would therefore inevitably be discontented by a perfect life… but even this regret could be simply edited out of a computer-written consciousness. The need for bodies would disappear and with them, the inevitability of death.

Through these pontifications on the integration of non-organic materials into the human mind, the reader is shown how the novel itself can become a kind of external hard drive for the writer, storing memories and feelings he no longer has room for inside his own head. The trouble is that no book is a perfect transcription of an author’s thoughts, and perhaps that’s why Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles goes wrong. It pretends to be one thing for so long that it never really stops, although that’s clearly not what Ron-Currie-the-author had in mind.

RATING 4 / 10