1. Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.
And then there was one... What to say about this book that I have not already said? How do I justify it's placement at the top of the Catapult Notable List for 2009? Ahhh, the pressure!
There was a difficult decision to be made between Currie and Larsen (#2), but I decided that this story was one that would stick with me in the long run, longer than anything else I read this past calendar year. How could I possibly know that this book is going to be one I remember the plot of in 30 years? That's for me to know and for you to find out, friend.
I realize that, as with any book, this may not be for everyone. There is a message within, but what that message may be is different for each reader, I've come to find. While T.S. Spivet has more of a mass appeal - cute, precocious 12-year old has an adventure and realizes the importance of family - the journey that Junior Thibodeau takes in Everything Matters! to learn what is essentially the same message, is much more starkly ground in reality, even though the plot may be more than highly improbable. In the end, it is not the mistakes we make or the decisions we regret, but the quality of the people with which we surround ourselves that truly judges our lives. I know, a potentially disastrous premise for a novelist to undertake, but Currie totally pulls it off, I'm telling you. Everything we do matters in the end, whether good or bad, it shapes who we are and who we become.
The skinny: Imagine that you were born with the absolute, unquestionable knowledge that the world would be destroyed in a fiery comet collision (equivalent to 283,824,000 Hiroshima bombs) somewhere in the vicinity of your 36th birthday. How would you live your life, knowing that every single thing you do or say or think is essentially futile - or at least more finite than we are comfortable thinking about? Would you use your knowledge to try and save the world? Or just your own family? Would you just chuck it all and drink yourself to death? Or would you just live your life as normally as possible? Does anything you do matter? These are the questions posed to Junior Thibodeau, born with an all-seeing, all-knowing voice inside his head. The voice shares its vast knowledge with Junior, whether regarding other people's personal secrets or the impending destruction of the planet, turning him into an lonely, introverted, alcoholic genius who feels that no one really knows him, since he cannot share his knowledge, since no one would believe him. He peppers his life with poor decisions, all under the ruse that nothing he does in life matters at all, since the outcome is so devastatingly pre-determined. But the one constant in life, he finds, is love, and no amount of destiny can impede that emotional connection to other people in your life.
I know that it sounds like a handful - maybe more weight than you're willing to take on while reading a work of fiction - but Currie writes with enough playfulness and wit that the weight of the impending doom never becomes more than the reader can bear. I did have a friend complain that "it was too depressing", but I think she was missing the point - which is, that despite all the hardships imposed by a finite life on earth, sometimes you need to stop and appreciate the small things in life that are ultimately more important. Every little thing we do or say matters towards forming each of us as individual human beings, even if each small thing may not have a visible, tangible impact. You just never know.
And that's why Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr was the best book I read in 2009.
The rest of the Notables:
2. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
3. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
4. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
5. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
6. The City and the City by China Mieville
7. Invisible by Paul Auster
8. Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga
9. The Signal by Ron Carlson
10. Stone's Fall by Iain Pears