When Maine author Ron Currie started working on his new novel a few years ago, he couldn’t have known how timely it would be when it came out in the spring of 2017. In an era when absolute truths seem increasingly difficult to grasp, “The One-Eyed Man” concerns K., an average guy who loses his wife to cancer.
Part of K.’s response to her death, for which he blames himself, is to become very literal, to the point where he literally can’t bring himself to walk when faced with a broken “don’t walk” sign, and can’t get his mind around the fact that a bottle of hand wash isn’t labeled “soap.”
K.’s inability to process metaphor leads to various adventures, including a reality show and frequent physical assault.
It’s tough not to notice, as K. insists on both telling the whole truth and extracting it from others, that he’s something of a lone voice in a post-truth world. And Currie, who grew up in Waterville and now lives in Portland, says while he started writing the book well before the phrase “alternative facts” entered the common lexicon, the story does seem to be very much of the moment.
Currie: I thought given everything that’s happened in the last few months, I thought the book would be perceived as prescient in some way, because I started writing it four years ago, and one of the things that was foremost in my mind when I began writing the book, is what I saw as the amount of nonsense I was surrounded by every day, on social media, in advertising, in politics and how it was insinuating itself into our real lives.
So that was one of the central themes of the book. And it surprised me come election time that people were surprised that it had real-life consequences, when I’d been writing about it for four years. I think we’re all just coming to realize now that we’ve been immersed in this environment for a long time and it really shouldn’t have come as any surprise that this was so consequential.
Flaherty: Tell me about K.
Currie: K. is an orphan, that’s an important thing to know about him. He moved around foster homes as a child, and his view of it is that it’s just his life. He doesn’t believe it had any effect on him, although it did. It’s another way he doesn’t understand himself — he doesn’t understand he’s grieving, and he doesn’t understand that his childhood was rough on him in the way you’d expect it to be for a foster child.
He’s also a very devoted and tender husband, as you see in flashback scenes throughout the book.
Nora Flaherty: I think one of the most interesting things in this book is that in spite of K.’s difficulties relating to people, he has some really important and meaningful relationships with different people.
Currie: Yes, starting with Clare, who works at what in the book is referred to as “Total Foods” supermarket. They meet at Total Foods, and she ends up being fired, and at the same time K. is offered a reality TV show, and she becomes his sidekick on the show.
He also has a meaningful relationship with Theo, the producer on the show. He’s coming to K. in the midst of a crisis of conscience himself: he’s been making reality TV for a very long time – his credits include Pimp House, Funeral Home Confessions, real garbage TV.
He’s decided he wants to do something more meaningful, but he’s stuck within the realm of reality TV. So, he wants to do something with K., because he sees an opportunity, in K., to have somebody confront what Theodore sees as a dearth of truth and honesty in the culture.
Flaherty: You’re from Maine and you’ve lived here your whole life. And there’s a lot of Maine in this book, but not what we often see in literature. How did place inform this book?
Currie: That’s an interesting question. I certainly had Portland and environs in mind when I wrote it, and although I never name it, even a casual read will make it clear.
And if I’ve done my job well, you can feel the different facets of Portland at work in the narrative and at work on K. as a character. You know, he’s frustrated with what he refers to as the familiar tropes of gentrification, for example – which is certainly on a lot of people’s minds right now.
Flaherty: It also has the only reference I’ve ever seen in literature to Allen’s Coffee Brandy.
Currie: Nobody outside of Maine has any idea what Allen’s is. So I guess that reveals place more than anything else in the book: The fact that he’s drinking Rumford Martinis with his mother-in-law certainly anchors it in Maine.
This interview has been edited for clarity.