book club: ‘everything matters!’

by Michael King

A friend of mine once told me, after reading a piece I’d written, that it wasn’t my best work. It might’ve been cathartic, she told me, but it was detached. Unemotional. ‘Your best work,’ she told me, ‘is somewhere between hilarious and heartbreaking.’

The same friend, somebody who has always seen into me a bit more than most people do, recommended that I read Everything Matters!

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Everything Matters! concerns itself with the story of Junior, a boy born with a connection to an omniscient force which enables him to know that, in his lifetime, a comet will collide with the planet and wipe humanity from the face of the Earth. It also examines the lives and experiences of his father, mother, brother, and girlfriend, among others.

“First, enjoy this time! Never again will you bear so little responsibility for your own survival. Soon you will have to take in food and dispose of your own waste, learn the difference between night and day and acquire the skill of sleeping… Soon after you must learn to run, share, swing a bat and hold a pencil, love, weep, read, tie your shoelaces, bathe, and die. There is much to do, and little time…”

His father’s time in Vietnam and bout with cancer. His mother’s broken family and struggle with alcoholism. His brother’s childhood experience with cocaine and eventual baseball career. His girlfriend’s abusive mother and escape to college. The weaving of these and other stories, set against a backdrop notion of a world set to ignite, raises the question the title sets out to answer: What is life? Does any of it matter?

“Listen: Everything ends, and Everything matters. Everything matters not in spite of the end of you and all that you love, but because of it. Everything is all you’ve got…and after Everything is nothing. So you were wise to welcome Everything, the good and the bad alike, and cling to it all. Gather it in. Seek the meaning in sorrow and don’t ever turn away, not once, from here until the end. Because it is all the same, it is all unfathomable, and it is all infinitely preferable to the one dreadful alternative.”

My first book for 2016, I found Everything Matters! to be somewhere between hilarious and heartbreaking. I found it to be ponderous and heavy, pushing my mind and emotions into the nooks and crannies I might normally avoid. The best writing, perhaps, enables us to connect more closely to our own stories, and not always in ways we like. Everything Mattersrings profoundly familiar, shedding light onto the joy and beauty and horror and apathy and brokenness and excellence of being.

“There is love, and then there is love. Either way, as far as you’re concerned, whatever it is that she feels for you is more than enough to make and keep you happy. This inequity of feeling couldn’t matter less. There is still enough, you think, to build a life around. Of course you believe this because you need to, not necessarily because it’s so.”

Having concluded the book today, sitting in the warmth of my car in between the hustle of a long day of work, I can tell you that I’m still chewing. This text, much like life,  is not for the faint of heart; for every foray into the wild and victorious, there is a dip into pain and confusion. The perils of watching our parents age, the seeming lottery of life events that await us, the struggle we face to make meaning of our brokenness. But, much like life, it is richly beautiful in its complex blend of warmth and cruelty, joy and suffering, conviction and futility.

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