A few weeks ago, I was nearly asked to leave the waiting room outside the endoscopy clinic at a Vermont hospital, thanks to Ron Currie Jr.’s new novel, “Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles.” A friend of mine had just turned 50 and was getting his first colonoscopy. I drove him to the hospital and brought Currie’s novel to read while he was sleeping through what we euphemistically refer to as “the procedure.”
I reached a scene so blisteringly funny that I laughed as I hadn’t laughed in years: We’re talking demonic, unstoppable, don’t-sit-next-to-that-guy howls. It was the narrator’s confession that he’s incapable of moving his bowels in the same building as his girlfriend and the efforts he’s made to hide from her the fact that he has ever gone to the bathroom. I’d say more, but it wouldn’t get past this newspaper’s copy editor.
I’m not sure what it says about me that I found Currie’s potty humor brilliant, but it does makes me a bit like his narrator, who is filled with buckets of self-loathing. Despite being narrated by a novelist also named Ron Currie Jr., the novel is not nearly as metafictional as it sounds. It actually feels more like a sentimental rom-com movie than a work of literary fiction. (Just for the record, I like sentimental rom-com movies.)
“Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles” is the story of a writer’s desperate love for Emma Zielinski and the spectacularly bad decisions that cause him to become an international literary sensation — while losing his Emma forever.
That’s not a spoiler: Currie tells us early on he is not going to get the girl. First, he misunderstands what Emma wants from him when she suggests he spend some time alone. He heads for a low-rent Caribbean island, where he drinks and brawls with the locals and shacks up with a 22-year-old college dropout named Charlotte — which isn’t exactly spending time alone. When Emma comes to visit him in the Caribbean, she learns of Charlotte and leaves. Currie, despondent, drives his car off a pier into the ocean . . . and lives. When everyone presumes that his body has washed out to sea, he decides to remain dead in the eyes of the world. Meanwhile, his mother — now grieving for a son who has killed himself — finds the unfinished manuscript he had written about his desperate love for Emma and sends it to an agent. The book becomes a blockbuster: “Nicholas Sparks with a thesaurus,” one critic calls it.
Offsetting these comic machinations are Currie’s ruminations on what he calls the “singularity,” that moment when our brains become computers and we live forever as machines. There is also his unflinching portrayal of his father’s final months with cancer: the pain, the degradation, the despair. It’s all there and rendered with poignancy.
But it’s not easy to like this fictional Currie, for a whole lot of reasons. The biggest one is that after surviving his suicide attempt, he still allows his mother to think he’s dead. It’s also a little hard to read how badly he treats poor Charlotte. He wallows in self-pity, drinks and fights and loses his teeth. And, yes, it’s agony to watch him admit how difficult it was for him to hug his own dying father after the man had soiled himself because he — Currie Jr. — had left him alone by mistake.
Moreover, the first two-thirds of the novel are dramatically more plausible than the final third. Once Currie survives his suicide and his book becomes a runaway bestseller, the story seems contrived. (Of course, Currie might also be on to something: When I asked what I could do to help make my first book a bestseller, my editor nodded thoughtfully and said, “Die.”)
Nevertheless, any novel that can make time fly in an endoscopy waiting room has real merit. I wasn’t always proud of myself for liking this book, but most of the time I sure did.
Bohjalian is the author of 16 books. His next novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” will be published in July.