Ron Currie Jr.’s debut collection operates on the smart and frankly ugly premise that God came back to Earth in the form of a Dinka tribeswoman only to be killed while fleeing the Janjaweed militia in the Darfur region of Sudan. What follows this story are nine additional tales of humanity’s trials after word of God’s passing spreads across the globe.
Currie examines a group of high school students who form a suicide pact as governments and cities begin to crumble; a pack of wild African dogs who, having eaten the flesh of the dead Dinka woman (God), take on supernatural and spiritual properties; and an idealistic high school-aged soldier who fights in a war that is both philosophic and physical.
While each of Currie’s ten stories are bleak, some seem to wallow perhaps too much in the particular details of the author’s bizarre and ultimately compelling premise. In ‘The Helmet of Salvation and The Sword of Spirit’, for instance, so much time is spent explicating the details of a global war between the Postmodern Anthropologists (Currie’s allegory for a free society) and the Evolutionary Psychologists (read: naturalistic fascists) that the characters are upstaged by the particulars of the plot. For much of the collection, however, Currie’s prose is nothing less than completely affecting. The beginning paragraph of ‘Indian Summer’ is as bleak and beautiful as any opening written by Denis Johnson. “There were ten of us,” writes Currie, “eight if you didn’t count the two in the middle of the living room holding pistols to each other’s heads.”
Like Barthelme and Vonnegut, or more recently Kelly Link and Aimee Bender, Currie’s fiction is best when taken on its own terms. Currie isn’t writing the kind of fiction where characters sit in diners and stare knowingly at one another. He’s writing emotionally charged stories in which drunken 19-year olds shoot one another in the head and a wild dog bemoans his supernatural existence. Luckily for both reader and author, Currie can afford to take the gigantic narrative risks he does because his prose is always engaging and often intensely beautiful.