Mar 1, 2017

The One Eyed Man, by Ron Currie

Written before meeting the author...
I'm honestly not sure whether this is a story about grief standing atop a soapbox, or an excuse to stand on a soapbox wrapped in a story of grief. Our hero (or antihero, as it may be), known only as K., has recently lost his wife to a long, protracted illness. Obvious to everyone else but rather less so to himself, his grief manifests in a need to be absolutely literal. If the crosswalk sign says DON'T WALK, you don't walk, even if it says so for several hours straight; people who's views or beliefs have the tiniest holes of logic are questioned intently until exasperation or anger explode. Within a 48 hour period, K. breaks his best friend's window, gets punched in the face by a redneck, gets a girl fired from her posh grocery store job, and gets shot during a robbery gone sideways. It's been a rough few months for K.

But then he gets noticed by the right (wrong?) people and becomes the star of a reality TV show in which he questions everyone he meets. Not maliciously, of course; it's all just part of his desire to understand. Most people, it becomes quickly obvious, do not want their beliefs questioned. K. is beat up. A lot. Interspersed with his adventures in conversational violence are chapters detailing the death of his wife, starting at the end and working backwards in time to her diagnosis. These chapters are as beautiful and striking as the present time chapters are amusing and thought-provoking. The book gets just close enough to pissing you off before dumping you back into the sadness of watching a loved one slowly, painfully die. It's a hell of a book, and I look forward to the discussion it inspires.

Written after meeting the author...
Ron Currie is, I should say, an utterly charming author. Smart, funny, thoughtful, he listens intently and shares honestly. It's the best kind of interaction a bookseller can hope to have with an author. It can be uncomfortable speaking with someone about what they've written, particularly when the subject matter is difficult. But Ron listened to everything we had to say about the book and was very gracious in discussing it. I find that I often realize things about a book whilst in the process of talking about it, and it always deepens my understanding of the work.

Currie writes grief as it really is, messy and complicated and uncertain. K.'s grief is a sea of grey, filled with guilt as well as sadness, and his way of dealing with that grey is to try to categorize the world in black and white. Anything irrational must be broken down until the roots are discovered, because his own grief and guilt are so irrational. Cognitive dissonance is the ability to hold two opposing views in your mind at the same time, and K. loses that ability entirely even while he tries to eradicate it in others. This includes being able to see how his own mind is working; he doesn't feel sadness anymore, therefore he can't be feeling grief. It takes an especially horrible situation to finally snap him out of it, though even then he is not the man he used to be.

This is a wonderful novel, though not for everyone. You have to keep an open mind during the parts where K. drills into people's deeply help beliefs. But it's all worth it for a moving story about human fragility and resilience.

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