When I read the basic premise of "Everything Matters!" -- that a boy knows from birth the exact time of the end of human civilization and must live his entire life questioning whether anything he does makes a difference -- it seemed the title had already answered the question. I figured I was in for a poignant moment towards the end, a la "Tuesdays with Morrie," with a clear message that everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, has importance, due to its very impermanence.
In a way, that happens. But it's hard to imagine "Everything Matters!" ever being made into a TV movie. Despite a few poignant moments, most of the book is filled with the lives of some seriously unhappy people. Perhaps that's because someone with a terminal illness can face his or her own death with dignity and, maybe, gratitude for each remaining moment; but a perfectly healthy child with the knowledge of not only his own impending doom, but that of all humanity, may have a much harder time. As one might expect, the boy, Junior, reacts to his unique knowledge by sinking into a deep and chronic depression. Junior deals with his depression in the way he's learned from his dysfunctional family -- by drinking.
Junior knows that a comet, referred to as the "Destroyer of Worlds," is on a trajectory that aims straight for the earth, thanks to an all-knowing voice he hears on occasion throughout his life. He doesn't know to whom this voice belongs, but it -- referred to in the first-person plural "we" -- becomes one of the most interesting characters in the book. At times, this presence tries to help Junior and offer advice; at other moments, it is impatient and even annoyed with him. When Junior sinks into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse to bury his despair, the voice(s?) gets a bit exasperated:
"Again: we accept our portion of the responsibility for your despair. It's understandable you would question the relevance of human actions, moral systems, even existence itself in the context of la fin du monde*, but honestly. Don't fool yourself into believing it's everything to do with the Destroyer of Worlds and nothing to do with the damage being wreaked on your nervous system by drugs and booze. Not to mention suppressed fury over Amy having left you. But mostly the drugs and booze."
At first Junior does what any of us might in order to avoid suffering -- he tries to fix things. He is unusually smart and has the occasional benefit of the omniscient voice, so he has more success than most of us would. When his dad is diagnosed with lung cancer, he sets about finding a cure. And instead of just waiting for the world to end, he helps a secret team of scientists find a way to evacuate civilization to another planet. No matter how much Junior works to avoid loss and pain though, it still finds him. The novel is at times a bit of a downer in its relentless and somewhat unrealistic parade of irony and devastation. Just when you think things are going to turn around, they get worse.
With Junior literally killing himself to heal his father, the voice decides to intervene, then apologizes for the intrusion. "So yes you were wrong about something, and we're sorry to be the ones to tell you because we know your sense of identity, if you can be said to have one, is tangled up in your intellect, in your ability to reason and deduce." The assistance ends up being for naught when shortly after being cured, Junior's dad dies in a car crash.
The tinge of black humor running through the book, along with a healthy dose of cynicism, is exactly what you'd expect from someone whose first novel was titled "God is Dead." When Junior falls in love, the voice crushes any notions of romanticism he might have: "It should be mentioned that you and Amy are not 'soul mates,' nor are you 'meant for each other' or any other such romantic nonsense. At this moment, as you sit gawking at her, there are 4.9 billion people on the planet. One needn't be a statistician to surmise that there are tens of thousands of people with whom you could fall in love and live an equally happy life ... Not destiny. Happenstance."
Currie's book has an underlying social commentary that lifts up the blue-collar worker, while disparaging the middle-class, liberal hippie (who's also trying to save the world). Amy rants about the hippie friends she is about to leave: "Their weekend non-profit work, saving third-world kids and feeding street people. Their fucking hybrids. Most of the women consider anything other than missionary to be the pinnacle of kink, and I'd bet my life not one of the men has ever been in a fistfight."
Cramming interpersonal relationships and various philosophical points into a unique writing style, "Everything Matters!" is an ambitious work. Despite its flaws, I found it worth the read. When the moment of truth comes, the voice has more to offer Junior -- knowledge of the nature of the universe, and something any of us would be interested in: a second chance.