Thursday, December 06, 2007
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
Cameron, Peter. 2007. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You.
This may be one of the hardest titles I'll ever review. The narrator is such a--I don't know how to phrase it politely--let's just say he's not nice and he's not likable. It's not that he's evil. It's just that Mr. Rogers' description of him as a "smug little **stard who doesn't know **it" is so perfectly true. He's arrogant. He's selfish. He's pompous. He just oozes "I'm too good to be in the same room with you" smugness. So I didn't enjoy one moment of this novel--well, except for the previously quoted confrontation between stepfather and stepson. So it is hard for me to evaluate the writing of Peter Cameron. It really is. An apt allegory might be watching a star you don't like dancing on "Dancing With The Stars." It's hard to separate the dance steps from the personality or persona of the star. Same with "American Idol." There are some contestants you take an almost instant dislike to. Every time they perform, every time they speak is painful to you. These are the kind of people that you cheer loudly when they're voted off. You clap your hands and scream and do a little dance of joy. (Did I just reveal too much there???)
So if you're looking for an unbiased review of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, you're going to have to look elsewhere this time. I am afraid anything I have to say will be tainted by my hatred for the narrator. (I do not in anyway equate the narrator with the author though.) Authors in many cases create characters--sometimes even narrators--that you're meant to dislike. I don't know that that is the case here. But certainly in Boy Toy and Touching Snow and Before, After, and Somebody In Between, there are characters that are there for you to hate. They're despicable. It's a natural response.
The first line--and I liked the first line I must admit--
The day my sister, Gillian, decided to pronounce her name with a hard G was, coincidentally, the same day my mother returned, early and alone, from her honeymoon. Neither of these things surprised me.
See, isn't that a great beginning? Nothing to dislike yet. But as the narrative goes on, his true nature is revealed. His biases, his prejudices, his jerky attitude is revealed. This guy really and truly thinks he's the center of the universe and that he's better--smarter--than anyone else--well most people anyway.
The simple plot line of this one is that our narrator, James Sveck, is eighteen working in his mom's art gallery, and trying to figure out if he's going to college in the fall. He's been accepted. He's been assigned a roommate. But he hates his peers. He hates young people. He doesn't think his generation has anything to offer him. He doesn't want to be friends with anyone. He doesn't want to fall in love with anyone. He doesn't want to talk to anyone. He doesn't want to be in the same room with anyone. He's anti-social. He's "too-good" to mix with his "own." He prefers the company of older--much older--people. Which typically, I'm all for. But not in this case. I like young people realizing that the older generation has something to offer. But not at the expense of being so smugly spoiled that you can't *bear* to be in the same room with someone under the age of thirty or twenty-five. He doesn't think college will do him any good. He doesn't think teachers, classes, have anything to offer him. He thinks he can be a self-taught man. He doesn't need anyone to succeed. To borrow a phrase from Lola, "He can do anything that's everything all on his own." What this teen needs is a reality check. He needs someone to put him in his place. He needs Dr. Phil. He needs to live in the Dr. Phil house for a while. (In case you're not familiar. He has a house filled with cameras that he puts his most difficult guests in. For example there might be six or eight guests there for "newlywed bootcamp" or the prejudice/hate group he has. He'll house people that theoretically hate each other right there next to each other. And let them work out their mutual hatred.)
This is one of the blurbs from the back cover:
"Not since The Catcher in the Rye has a novel captured the deep and almost physical ache of adolescent existential sadness as trenchantly as the perfectly titled Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. You don’t have to be eighteen to relate to James Dunfour Sveck and his sense of alienation from a world he doesn’t understand, nor to be profoundly moved by his story. Told with compassion, insight, humor, and hope, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You deserves to be read by readers of all ages for years to come. I would have loved it as a teenager, and I love it now." —James Howe, author of The Misfits
Perhaps that is why I'm not a fan. I don't like Catcher in the Rye and I don't like existential nonsense in fiction or nonfiction.
It has received at least two starred reviews. And I'm sure it will be on many best lists. Just not my own.