Ron Currie was waving his arms about fake news long before “fake news” became part of our lexicon. He’s been calling out hypocrites and liars for years, but never as directly as in his new novel, “The One-Eyed Man,” set to be released March 7 by Viking.

In this new book, his fourth, the Portland novelist creates a character for our times. K, as he is called, operates without social consciousness or filters, and he exasperates and infuriates friends and strangers with his rigid literalness. When the crossing signal is stuck on “Don’t Walk,” he won’t walk. He’s a hero to some and a villain to others. He can’t abide by anything other than the literal truth, which bumps up against the world’s falsehoods at every turn. “He needs clarity and factuality in the same way the rest of us need water. Which in this world, of course, makes him a very thirsty man indeed,” Currie said.

K is an idiosyncratic everyman and practically anonymous. He is an orphan. He does not have a name. He is of average intelligence, average height and average build. He’s not much to look at, but he’s not ugly either.

There is nothing remarkable about him except his apprehension of the world.

Ron Currie’s latest book is set to be released March 7 by Viking.

“K is what I would be if I ignored all social conventions,” Currie said in a coffeehouse interview. “Fiction isn’t wish fulfillment, but it can brush up against wish fulfillment in that, as an author, you can allow yourself to explore through a character what your world would be like if you behaved in a different way, if you paid heed to the impulses that you squash.”

“The One-Eyed Man” is Currie’s third full-length novel, and it lands with perfect timing at the intersection of politics, media and entertainment. He didn’t plan it this way, and he certainly didn’t expect the book’s release to coincide with a national discussion about the truth and how to discern what’s real and what’s not. But he’s also not surprised. He saw this one building for years.


As a writer, he follows his nose. In this instance, his nose lead to a simultaneous fascination with and revulsion of what we now call fake news and the confluence of nonsense and technology. Each time he logged on to Facebook he was confronted with someone pushing an agenda with “facts” that probably weren’t true. Advertisers promised miracles they couldn’t deliver.

More interesting was people’s willingness to believe these things to the exclusion of any other possibility. The condition manifested itself most dramatically and with the most serious consequences in the November election, when supporters of both presidential candidates held fast to their beliefs and treated them as the absolute truth even when facts didn’t support those beliefs.

Currie believes the condition is hard-wired. “It’s a real psychological phenomenon,” he said. “So I vacillate between not blaming people, because that’s how we’re hard-wired, and wanting to shake them by lapels and say, ‘Engage in some critical thinking and try to use your brain instead of your gut all the time.’ This book flowed from that.”

In “The One-Eyed Man,” K is 43, living in New England and grieving the death of his wife, Sarah. His grief manifests itself by his inability to understand metaphors. His quest for absolute clarity ruins relationships and reorders his life, and it leads him to become an inadvertent hero, reality show star and, much to his bemusement, a member of the witness protection program in Toledo, Ohio.

With a wink. Currie neither confirmed nor denied that he based his K on a Kafka’s character of the same name in “The Castle.”

At his heart, Currie is an acerbic satirist and observer of pop culture and human behavior. In addition to his novels, he likes to write opinion pieces and essays for newspapers and print and online magazines so he can respond in the moment.


Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist from Portland, appreciates Currie’s ability to mix cynicism with sentiment and thinks “The One-Eyed Man” will advance Currie’s career by moving him off the lists of up-and-coming writers to the lists of those who’ve arrived.

“This new book is incredibly timely, and I think it’s going to do very well,” Russo said. “Of all the writers I know, Ron has always had a eye on the culture overall in a way that not many writers do. He has a great BS detector, and that detector goes off in Ron whether it’s the political right or the political left. He recognizes hypocrisy wherever he finds it, and that makes for a great satirist.”

Writing in the New York Times, reviewer Janet Maslin laid the groundwork for Currie’s career ascent when she called him “a startling talented writer” in 2009 when his first novel, “Everything Matters!” came out. She also was among the first to compare him to Kurt Vonnegut, a comparison that has stuck.

Russo will interview Currie at Print: A Bookstore on March 9. Currie also will talk about his book March 29 at a Literary Lunch at the Portland Public Library.

Currie’s new book brings up themes of fake news and alternate facts.

Currie, 41, grew up in Waterville. Despite his Scottish surname, he comes from a French family and identifies with working-class people. That’s his stock. He’s more comfortable hanging out with guys who work power lines or lay bricks than his professional colleagues, thought he thrives on the collegiality of the Portland literary scene.

“Waterville was a funny place,” he said. “At the time, to a kid who was 10 years old, it still seemed pretty prosperous, even though it wasn’t anymore. The writing was on the wall with Scott Paper, Hathaway Shirt Co. and Keyes Fibre. All those places were on what, to adults, must have been an obvious decline. But to me it seemed like, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, that the community itself wasn’t in a free fall. But it was.”


His upbringing informs his view of the world. His early writing echoed the rage of “a misguided class warrior” – all guts and no brains, he admits. He’s matured, but still identifies with towns that revolve around a single employer or a couple of mills, and he understands in a sympathetic way the anger of people who wish things would go back to when times were good in places like Waterville.

“What you see in those communities now, the sort of stout insistence of returning to a time that may or may not actually have existed, is what we are seeing writ large in this great new world we call the Trump presidency,” Currie said.

“I know those things are related, and I know that dynamic and that energy exist outside of discussions about identity politics and it exists outside of discussions of policy. It’s real and valid anger and frustration those people are feeling, which is not to excuse the fact they are willing to do what they did, which to me was burning down the house because you don’t like the drapes.”

Currie’s interest in literature came early and was kicked into overdrive when he read Stephen King and “the godheads” of science fiction, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. He never doubted he would be a writer, because writing is what he calls “an in-born compulsion.” He couldn’t not write.

His writer’s voice is shaped by cultural influences, so there’s as much TV and pop culture in there as Vonnegut. “People talk about voice, but what you’re really referring to is every single thing that went into a novelist’s mind over the course of probably the first 25 years of his or her life. His or her voice is an amalgam of all of those influences, combined with what is hopefully that author’s singular or idiosyncratic world view,” he said.

Currie has lived in other places – Florida for a while, Cyprus in the Mediterranean briefly after 9/11, and he can imagine himself living on an island in Puerto Rico where he has gone in recent years to get away. No matter where he goes, he always comes back to Maine.


So far, anyway.

“My feelings toward Maine are, as with everything else, honestly, ambivalent. There’s obviously a reason I keep coming back, and it’s not the winters. If you asked me to articulate the reasons, it would be impossible. I wouldn’t be able to do it. There is something ineffable, and it has to do with the people,” he said.

Currie is not planning a big tour for this book, which might seem counterintuitive. He is meeting with booksellers nationwide to promote the book, but he has little interest in standing and reading in front of 30 or 40 people in Chicago or Dallas or San Francisco. Readings help sell books, but they don’t necessarily sustain careers, he said. “It’s not something I come by honestly, so I don’t make the effort. I am better off writing.”

And observing.

Currie understands the mood of America right now, the yearning and the anger. He predicted it, because it was part of the zeitgeist. But he never imagined it resulting in a Trump presidency.

“I had no idea. I don’t think anybody did,” he said. “If you are going to be a prescient novelist, you are Orwell. You are doing it 40 years, 50 years in advance, not three.”

Contact Bob Keyes at 791-6457 or:

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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