The One-Eyed Man

The One-Eyed Man

by Ron Currie

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Overview

From the “startlingly talented” (New York Times) author of Everything Matters!—a bold and timely novel about a grieving man dedicated to unmasking the role that lies and delusions play in our reactionary times

"Nobody writing today walks the knife edge of cynicism and sentiment more bravely, intelligently and confidently than Ron Currie.  By turns hilarious and heartfelt, The One-Eyed Man is a revelation, a wonder."  --Richard Russo

“Dark, tender, and oh-so-timely.” – USA Today

Ron Currie’s three previous works of fiction have dazzled readers and critics alike with their originality, audacity, and psychological insight. A writer of unique vision and huge imagination, Currie excels at creating complex, troubled, yet endearing characters, and his work has won comparison to everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to George Saunders.

K., the narrator of Currie’s new novel, joins the ranks of other great American literary creations who show us something new about ourselves. Like Jack Gladney from White Noise, K. is possessed of a hyper-articulate exasperation with the world, and like Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, he is a doomed truth teller whom everyone misunderstands. After his wife Sarah dies, K.becomes so wedded to the notion of clarity that he infuriates friends and strangers alike. When he intervenes in an armed robbery, K. finds himself both an inadvertent hero and the star of a new reality television program. Together with Claire, a grocery store clerk with a sharp tongue and a yen for celebrity, he travels the country, ruffling feathers and gaining fame at the intersection of American politics and entertainment. But soon he discovers that the world will fight viciously to preserve its delusions about itself.

How Currie's unconventional hero comes to find peace, to reenter the world, and to be touched again by emotion and empathy makes for a dramatic, utterly memorable story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735222809
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 724,792
File size: 797 KB

About the Author

Ron Currie is the author of the novels Everything Matters! and Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles and the short story collection God Is Dead, which was the winner of the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award. Currie received the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Read an Excerpt

Don’t Walk

That morning, in an effort to restore some normalcy to my weekend, I left the house and strolled to the coffee shop for a Grande Americano, just like a regular, irrational person. At the end of my street the cross signal read DON’T WALK, so I stopped on the curb and pushed the large silver button several times even though I was fully aware that it took only one compression to activate the signal. The coffee shop, a single-story cut stone building with one large plate glass window, sat on the corner directly across from me. It was busy, as midmornings on Sunday tended to be. People rushed in and out like they were looting the place. They pushed strollers and dragged dogs by the leash and carried great rolls of newsprint under their arms. I watched them come and go, glancing up now and again at the crossing signal, which still read DON’T WALK.

While waiting for the crossing signal, I received a text message from Tony. It said that Alice didn’t want me at their house anymore. I felt a twinge of regret, like the mild fleeting sadness I’d experienced the previous night when hearing a story about Christians slaughtered like beef cattle at a Kenyan mall. But at the same time I understood why Alice didn’t want me around. After all, I’d vandalized her home. It was Sunday, so they likely had to wait another twenty-four hours for someone to come and fix the window, and in the meantime Tony probably had to tape a piece of cardboard over the hole to keep the cold out. Not a great scene. Our punk rock days, insofar as we’d had any, were well behind us. We were supposed to be weaning babies and fertilizing lawns and building equity— those yardsticks of nascent maturity— not breaking windows for the sake of doing so. I made a mental note to send Tony a check to cover the replacement.

The signal continued to insist that I not cross the street. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and back again. I checked my watch and saw that two hours had passed since I’d first left the house. The coffee shop was somewhat less busy now, but even though I’d gotten out of bed that morning intending to behave just like anyone else, I couldn’t bring myself to cross against the signal. People in cars stopped, stared at me expectantly, then shot goggle-eyed looks of exasperation when I waved them through.

Contrails stitched the sky overhead, some tight and linear, other, older ones dissipating into bulbous puffs in the stratosphere. My mind, compensating perhaps for the ongoing physical stillness, wandered about. Somewhere in the world, surely, at that moment, someone was inflicting unimaginable pain on a dog. Somewhere else— perhaps even quite nearby— a stranger hurried through a silent, fraught ethical calculus while deciding whether to make up the difference on the grocery bill of a poor person in front of him. Elsewhere, no doubt, a man was inserting a finger into his own rectum as he masturbated. As I stood there on the street corner, a mere two lanes of intermittent traffic away from my coffee, people were roasting alive in fires, learning to crochet and speak rudimentary Spanish, planning weddings and murders. The Earth continued to plunge through the universe at an inconceivable speed, and upon it I waited in vain for the crossing signal to change, tongue cleaving to the roof of my mouth as I dehydrated slowly, thighs stiffening with the cold, a modest awe at the vagaries of creation blossoming in me, as it did most days, these days.

A few hours later the streetlamps flickered on, casting circles of bilious yellow across the pavement. Headlights from passing cars strobed my torso and face. The picture window in the coffee shop’s façade glowed a warm, beckoning orange, and people sat at tables before mugs that steamed like scale-model nuclear power plants. They slouched on their tailbones with their legs splayed in front of them, relaxed and comfortable. They watched videos on their tablets and turned the pages of analog books with studied contemplativeness. Gradually, as the evening drew on, in ones and twos they all departed, and by and by the girl behind the counter readied the shop for closing.

Hands in my pockets, I watched as the girl came to the front door and threw the dead bolt, then emptied all the coffee urns into the sink and rinsed them with water from the tap. She upended the chairs and set them on tabletops and gave the floor a perfunctory mopping. She counted out her register and jammed a bunch of bills into a burlap cash bag, hurrying, hurrying. Maybe she had a date to get ready for, or maybe she was meeting friends. Perhaps she was just tired of work and had no plans more pressing than to not be at the coffee shop any longer, but whatever the reason there was a real urgency to her movements.

I shivered. I looked at my watch, then again at the crossing signal. Despairing of my coffee, thinking I should finally turn back toward home, I glanced one last time at the picture window, and that was the moment when the man emerged from the bathroom and pointed a gleaming obsidian pistol at the girl who had served me my Americano all these years.

For a moment they just stood there, the girl frozen in disbelief, the man trying to figure out what came next, like an actor waiting for his line. Then the man yelled at the girl, and motioned with the gun in a threatening way. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, of course, being across the street and on the other side of a thick pane of glass, but I could guess at the gist of it. He wanted money, certainly. Maybe he wanted something in addition to money, as well. One read about such things, from time to time.

I reached for my phone. The crossing signal continued to glow red: DON’T WALK.

The girl took the cash bag off the counter and held it out to the man. Before her arm was fully extended, he snatched the bag awayand yelled at her again. At this the girl clapped her hands over her ears and bent at the waist, trying to disappear, trying to will herself to time travel, or disintegrate, or to become any of the versions of herself that she had ever been or would ever be, anything but this version of her who thirty seconds prior had perhaps been daydreaming about a glass of Pinot Grigio and was now wondering if she would live to see another sunrise.

The girl’s mouth hung open, ragged with terror.

“9-1-1, please state the nature of your emergency,” a woman said into my ear.

“The nature of it?” I thought for a moment. “The nature of it is . . . frightening. Quite dangerous, I think. Involves a firearm.”

“Sir, do you have an emergency you want to report?”

“Thank you for rephrasing,” I said. “That’s much easier to answer. Yes, there is a man holding a barista up at gunpoint.”

“And where are you, sir?”

“I’m standing across the street,” I said.

Which street, sir?”

“Appleton. Across from Hilltop Coffee.”

“A man is robbing Hilltop Coffee on Appleton Street?” the woman said.

“That’s correct.”The man motioned toward the cash register, and the girl moved past him, careful to keep as far from the gun as possible. She came around the counter and punched a few keys, but fear made her clumsy, and the register refused to open. After a few moments she began to pound on the keypad with the heel of her hand, pleading with the machine to perform its only function and save her life.

“Officers are on their way, sir,” the woman said to me. “Can you tell me what’s happening now?”

When the girl failed again to open the register, the man became impatient and pressed the barrel of the gun to a spot just below her hairline. He did this very gently. He could have been pressing his lips to her forehead, rather than a .38, he was so gentle about it. And that was when the girl let out a scream that I could both see and, very faintly, hear.

She thought it was over, just then.

“I think I have to do something,” I told the woman on the phone.

“Sir, do not interfere,” the woman said. “Officers are on their way. Tell me what’s happening.”

I put the phone back in my pocket.

DON’T WALK.

I checked for traffic in both directions, then hustled across the street, veering out of the crosswalk as I approached the coffee shop. I stopped in front of the picture window. This close I could see that the man and the girl were both trembling. I was too, at this point. I had no plan, no weapon, no black belt in Krav Maga.The door was locked, the picture window thick enough that I would have needed a hammer to break it. And then what? Crawl over stalagmites of glass while the man unloaded his gun at me?

The expression on the girl’s face was what one would expect: ghastly, pathetic. But bearable to witness. Looking at the man, however, I could feel the blood flush from my cheeks. He wore a murderous sneer from the nose down, capped by the wide wondering eyes of a child. An impossible, nauseating expression. His fingers gripped the butt of the gun so tightly that his knuckles strained the skin white, and the crotch of his jeans bulged with an erection.

It was plain that the man no longer cared about the register, no longer cared, in fact, about the money in the cash bag, already his to take and run with. Whatever was human in him, whatever his upper consciousness consisted of, had evaporated. I recognized, without even the slightest doubt, that he was only moments from doing something terrible and irrevocable.

I could think of nothing else, so I raised a hand and rapped on the picture window, thrice.

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