Published by Viking Press on Feb. 2013
Source: Giveaway / Gift
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is a book by Ron Currie, Jr., about a character named Ron Currie, Jr. Is it a novel? Is it a true story? Is it both? What’s the difference? Where do you draw the line between reality and fiction? Is it even a useful distinction to make? Why? Currie examines these questions in this fascinating book.
Ron Currie (the character) is a writer whose first book flopped and who is in love with his high-school sweetheart, the alluring but elusive Emma. When Emma, who is going through a divorce, asks him to give her space to figure things out, he travels to a small Caribbean island to drink copious amounts of rum and write a book about her. He also gets in fights and sleeps with beautiful co-eds to fill the void left by Emma, his love eternal — until…
Until Emma comes to visit him and finds out about his indiscretions. She leaves, furious, and a despairing Currie attempts to kill himself. He fails, naturally, but everyone thinks he’s dead. He decides to stay “dead” and goes into hiding. Meanwhile, his unfinished book about Emma is found and published, and it becomes a huge hit. However, Currie can’t stay dead forever, and when he returns to his life, he must face the angry masses who will not forgive his lie.
Also sprinkled through the book are memories of Currie’s father, who died of cancer, and ruminations about Singularity, which is the concept that someday machines will become self-aware and gain consciousness. These were honestly some of my favorite parts of the book. I get impatient with “I’ll love her forever, she’s so amazing, but she doesn’t love me back, and mostly I want her because I can’t have her” story lines, so sometimes Currie’s obsession with Emma irritated me. That’s not to say it didn’t feel real; I just couldn’t relate to it. However, the memories of his father are so touching and human and heartfelt, and I loved them.
The parts about Singularity were also really fascinating:
“The only advantage we retain over the machines we’ve created, at this moment, is that we have souls. They think smarter and faster. They are infinitely stronger, and never tire, and never die. They only lack a soul, but that will change soon. This is why ‘artificial intelligence,’ like ‘global warming,’ is a misnomer; it suggests that smarts is what machines lack. But intelligence they’ve got, and when they graduate to souls they will do everything better than we ever have.”
When this happens, when machines attain souls, what will it mean for humans? Will machines act benevolently toward us, “as a gifted child toward a beloved, enfeebled grandfather,” and watch us die slowly of shame as we find ourselves entirely without purpose? Or will machines tolerate us as long as we don’t inconvenience them too much, like we treated the Sioux and Atlantic salmon? Currie is obsessed with questions such as these, and it is totally intriguing.
Currie makes it clear at the very beginning of this book that, “everything I’m about to tell you is capital-T True,” but also reminds us that “your life, or at least the narrative you have of it in your head, is “based on real events,” rather than objectively true.” It was interesting to contemplate what is factually real and what is emotionally real in this book. What parts of this book are Ron Currie the author vs. Ron Currie the character?
I also really like the format of this book. It is fractured, full of flashbacks and memories and thoughts about the relationships between humans and machines. The way Currie tells the story using connected, fragmented pieces instead of a linear narrative reminded me of Slaughterhouse-Five, and I loved it. I’ve seen this book described as post-modern, and although I can’t claim to be up on my literary movements, I suspect that I like this one very much.
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is an edgy, thought-provoking book about love, loss, how art borrows from life, and how something can be true without being factual. It got all my thinky juices flowing, and I highly recommend it.