Tag Archives: Ron Currie

Baby Driver

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The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel by Garth Stein (Harper Perennial, $14.99, 321 pages)

There are certain books you look back on, years later, and think, "That was some story!" This is one of those books. It is a touching, emotional story made all the more so because its narrator is a dog facing his approaching death. As the story begins, Enzo the dog is ready to accept his fate; in fact, in a way he welcomes it because he believes – based on what he observed on a public television documentary, that his soul will then be freed to return to life as a human being. Enzo's lifelong study of these creatures with opposable thumbs and the ability to speak clearly has convinced him that he'll do quite well in his next life.

While this story will leave you with a warm and fuzzy heart (and moist eyes) at the conclusion, it is filled with a lot of the negative things that can happen to people in this life… Which is why the tale includes stops at a jail, a criminal courtroom, a hospital, and a cemetery. Even two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through you'll begin to doubt that there can be such a thing as a happy conclusion to this dog-gone tale. But hang in there, reader, because author Garth Stein begins pulling the rabbits out of his writing hat in the very last pages; with this, his writing takes on a certain special quality. Let's call it the ability to fashion a sparkling magical mystery trip.

As with Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr., you won’t see the ending coming until it’s upon you. And as with Everything…, there’s a fake ending followed by a reprise (or slight return as per Jimi Hendrix) that ties everything together. Maybe. Or maybe the final ending isn’t what it seems to be. This is something that will keep you thinking for a few days after finishing this novel.

I hope and pray that if this fictional tale is made into a movie they don’t change a thing – The Time Traveler’s Wife, anyone? – including maintaining Enzo as the story’s narrator. Now, let’s see, who would be the ideal voice of Enzo? Me, I hear Nicolas Cage when I think of Enzo, but that’s just me. As Enzo would say (or bark out), “I know a lot about a lot of things, but I don’t know everything about everything.”

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

If you read and enjoy The Art of Racing in the Rain, you will likely also enjoy reading the fun and marvelous Walking in Circles Before Lying Down: A Novel by Merrill Markoe. It’s another fine feast for dog lovers, available as a trade paperback book (Villard, $13.95, 288 pages).

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The Best Book of 2009

It really was not close, although Everything Matters!: A Novel by Ron Currie, Jr. is a very, very good runner-up.   Instead we have no choice but to choose Audrey Niffenegger’s follow-up to The Time Traveler’s Wife.   Yes, Her Fearful Symmetry is this site’s choice as the very best book published in 2009.

How good was it?   Well, we felt we needed to post three separate reviews to do the book justice.   Even then we likely fell short.   Our reviews were posted here on September 23, 2009 (6 days before the book’s release); September 28, 2009; and on November 7, 2009.   To revisit these reviews type the following search terms into the Search It! box on the right:  her fearful symmetry; take two…; what comes after.  

We can only hope that Ms. Niffenegger is now working on a third novel for release in 2011.   We will wait, anxiously – helplessly hoping.

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The Twelve

While The Twelve by William Gladstone seemed slightly reminiscent of Ron Currie, Jr’s excellent Everything Matters!, this is not that book.   As with Everything Matters!, this book deals with a man who knows when “the end of time” will arrive.   Max acquires his knowledge at the age of fifteen when he also sees the names of twelve individuals.   Are these persons, all unknown to him, future apostles?

An interesting setup, but the writing from first-time author William Gladstone leaves much to be desired.   At times, it feels like a children’s book with somewhat squirrely language that explains too much of the obvious:  “Max accepted that wherever he was, he was exactly where he was supposed to be…  he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time…  the idea of making an error never occurred to him.   He expected himself to be perfect in everything he did…  and so he was.”  

Enjoying The Twelve will also require acceptance of many implausible events and the over-use of certain words such as “vivacious.”   Maybe there’s a fine tale buried here, something that a quite talented editor might unearth, but it was simply not for this reader.

Vanguard Press, $19.95, 266 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Baby Driver: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Art of racing 6There are certain books you look back on, years later, and think, “That was some story!”   This is one of those books.   It is a touching, emotional story made all the more so because its narrator is a dog facing his approaching death.   As the story begins, Enzo the dog is ready to accept his fate; in fact, in a way he welcomes it as he believes – based on what he observed on a public television documentary – that his soul will then be freed to return to life as a human being.   Enzo’s  life-long study of these creatures with opposable thumbs and the ability to speak clearly has convinced him that he’ll do quite well in his next life.

While this story will leave you with a warm and fuzzy heart (and moist eyes) at the conclusion, it is filled with a lot of the negative things that can happen to people in this life…  which is why the tale includes stops at a jail, a criminal courtroom, a hospital, and a cemetery.   Even two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through you’ll begin to doubt that there can be such a thing as a happy conclusion.   But hang in there, reader, because author Garth Stein begins pulling the rabbits out of his writing hat in the very last pages; with this, his writing takes on a magical mystery.

As with Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr., you won’t see the ending coming until it’s upon you.   And as with Everything… there’s a fake ending followed by a reprise (or slight return as per Jimi Hendrix) that ties everything together.   Maybe…   Or maybe the final ending isn’t what it seems to be.   This is something that will keep you thinking for a few days after finishing this novel.

I just hope and pray that if this fictional tale is made into a movie they don’t change a single thing – The Time Traveler’s Wife, anyone? – including maintaining Enzo as the narrator.   Now, let’s see, who would be the voice of Enzo?   Me, I hear Nicholas Cage when I think of Enzo, but that’s just me.   As Enzo would say (or bark out), I know a lot about a lot of things, but not everything about everything.

Joseph Arellano

Notes: This book was purchased by the reviewer.   Also, if you read and enjoy The Art of Racing in the Rain, you will also likely enjoy reading the fun and marvelous Walking in Circles Before Lying Down: A Novel by Merrill Markoe.   It’s another fine feast for dog-lovers, now available as a trade paperback (Villard, $13.95).

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The Weight: The Story of Forgetting

We slouch under the weight of our memories…   This is just one of the brilliant notions revealed by first-time author Stefan Merrill Block in his unique and monumental novel, The Story of Forgetting.   I’m not going to play hide-the-ball, I’ll come right out and say that this novel (originally released in 2008) is one of the two best – along with Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. – that I’ve read this year.

Forgetting offers two stories melded together…   The basic story concerns the impact on a family of a parent’s early-onset Alzheimer’s; a family which is, shall we say, a bit odd.   “Abel…  is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his family farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburbs.”   And Seth may be a teenage near-genius who seeks to rapidly develop a cure for the dreaded disease that leads to forgetting – both mentally and physically – and death.

The other, imbedded, story is of a fantasy land named Isidora where people live near perfect lives in cities of gold.   Amnesia Clubs are formed “to discover a way to forget.”   In this imaginary and parallel universe memories are prison bars and forgetfullness is freedom.Forgetting large As with Everything Matters! it is virtually impossible to say anything more about the storyline without giving too much away…   What is clear is that Block writes laser-focus fiction in the manner one of our very best writers, Joan Didion, writes of real things and real life.   (What a gift.)   

This book may shake-up your way of looking at the past and present in your own life.   It is very much about the power of now:   “To remember nothing.   What more could one possibly ask of eternity?”

Recommended, recommended, recommended.

Review by Joseph Arellano.   Note:  This book was released in trade paperback form on April of 2009 (Random House).

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Everything Matters!

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Everything Matters!: A Novel by Ron Currie (Penguin Books, $16.00, 320 pages)

Years ago I read a now out-of-print novel about a man who dies but is then given a second chance at life.   I thought of that book while reading this unique and inspirational story from author Ron Currie, Jr.   Everything Matters! begins with an amazing premise:  when John Thibodeau, Jr., known as “Junior,” is born he is informed there is “one thing for certain,” which is that the world will come to an end in 36 years, 186 days, 14 hours and 23 seconds from the time of his birth.

The question is, of course, what will Junior do with this knowledge?   Will he inform others – even if he is thought to be insane – or use his great intellectual skills (he is the fourth most intelligent person on the face of the earth) to fashion a science-based escape for mankind?

Junior must ask himself the key question:  Will anything I do matter?   In the end, he finds his answer:  that in the here and now of life, anything is possible.

This is a work of faith, just not in the usual sense.   It is a tale that validates the saying that even when there is no plan, everything works out according to plan.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

 

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Everything Really Does Matter!

OK, so how is this for a unique plot line?   A person is born and given the special knowledge that the world will come to an end in his 36th year of life on Earth; he has the ability to tell strangers about specific and dramatic events in their pasts; and he is among a handful of the smartest people on the planet!   Whoa, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The telling of this novel by writer Ron Currie, Jr. (God Is Dead) – who was working as a short-order cook two years ago – is just as good as the premise.   Currie has a style that calls forth science-fiction, yet it is straightforward and easy to read.   What I do not agree with are the unfortunate comparisons that have been made between Currie and Kurt Vonnegut.   To read Vonnegut you must completely suspend your belief in what is real and possible – he creates a completely artificial world.   Currie’s world is quite real, except for the main character who is the only person with the potential to save a doomed planet.

Currie has other surprises up his sleeve, such as fooling you when you think you’re at what has to be the end of the tale; he suddenly reprises the story in such a unique way that you’ll wonder why no one else has thought of doing it.   I kept thinking of bands, like the Beatles, the Who and the Small Faces, who loved to close their songs with fake endings, only to come back with the real closer.

Everything Matters!  is so completely one-of-a-kind that I cannot disclose anything else about the story line without ruining it for future readers.   I’ll just say that this is absolutely the best book I’ve read since the early 70’s!   At the end, you’ll feel better about yourself and the planet…   You’ll feel proud to be a human being.Everything Matters (large)

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Coming up next…

Everything MattersOur review of the amazing book Everything Matters!  

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