In a recent essay, award-winning Maine author Ron Currie argues that reading is essential, especially in the age of President Trump. His argument is simple: When reason and sanity appear to be on the wane, displaced by taunts and tweets, reading becomes a survival tool. It opens up the world, bringing solace and perspective.
Currie’s third and latest novel, “The One-Eyed Man,” borrows heavily from the Trump playbook. In this dark satire, Currie has created a world gone awry, with familiar tropes. Political correctness, fake news, reality TV – all are present and accounted for. They find their spokesman in the protagonist, “K,” a philosopher-madman, human punching bag and all-around tact-free, truth-telling guy.
We meet K in a series of encounters that exemplify his newly acquired tic: Reading the label on a bottle of liquid soap at a friend’s house, he questions the use of language – “formulated with cleansing agents” – that deliberately obfuscates the product. As his annoyance reaches fever pitch, he hurls the bottle through a window.
“I was visited by the hammer-stroke certainty that the culture I counted myself a part of … had become proudly, willfully, and completely divorced from fact,” he says.
Then he confronts a stranger about the bumper sticker on his pickup, critiquing not only the slogan’s errant grammar, but dubbing the man a racist. K suffers a blow to the face as a result.
Truth is, K never used to be this way. Since his wife, Sarah, died several months before, he’s become totally unhinged. He spouts off about Einstein’s theory of relativity, the space-time continuum and the illusion of death. Stripped of any filter, he sees things in their most literal form and periodically erupts without warning. His friends are more than a little concerned.
The book’s action takes off when, waiting to cross the street, K notices a barista in his local coffee shop being robbed at gunpoint. He foils the attack and saves her life, sustaining a gunshot wound himself, which seeds the events that follow. K becomes a local hero. Reporters descend, word of K’s heroism spreads and he receives an offer to star in a reality TV show.
K and his sidekick, Claire, take their improbable show on the road, offending people as they go, which is the explicit goal of their new series, “America, You Stoopid.” They interview people around the nation, seeking out disagreement – the more vehement, the better. Of course the producer, Theodore, whose credits include the series “Pimp House,” doesn’t want K to be killed, though assault and light bloodshed are encouraged.
“I can’t seem to help rubbing people the wrong way,” says K.
“It’s going to make us famous,” Claire assures.
As fame accrues, K is recognized in public, asked for autographs. His misadventures escalate when he makes guest appearances on talk shows and discusses guns. Among his remarks, he states that NRA members are “men who collect firearms for precisely the same reason that little girls collect dolls.” The host wishes him well and suggests that he buy a good quality Kevlar vest. Alas, the subplot that follows goes off the rails, beyond even the excesses inherent in the story.
Currie has been likened to Swift and Vonnegut, among other revered satirists. No doubt, the timeliness of this sendup will appeal to readers suffering from the whiplash of our new administration, especially those who prefer vibrant prose to boastful tweets. Yet there’s more here than meets the eye. Hijinks and parody aside, Currie has written a tale whose backstory about the final months of K’s marriage may be even more compelling than the book’s political follies. As we learn in alternating chapters, K was a tender, solicitous husband, who (wrongly) blames himself for his wife’s death. His crazed, often aggressive, behavior is that of a grief-stricken widower whose world has turned upside down. This may be bad news for K, but good news for readers, who get to witness the sweep of Currie’s talent.
Currie navigates the funny-sad axis of human relations as well as anyone writing today. He writes eloquently on the complexity of marriage, conveying the gravity and humor at its core. He’s a consummate performer – engaging and generous, filled with provocative ideas and gorgeous language to express them.
Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News.