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.


Kimberly/lectitans said...

Putting this on my "Not To Read" list! Holden Caufield is #s 1 - 10 on my list of Top Ten Literary Characters I'd Like to Punch in the Face.

1morechapter said...

I hate Catcher in the Rye, too, so I'd probably hate this book. Sounds awful.

Erin said...

I saw in Little Willow's article that you love Holocaust books. Have you read SOMEONE NAMED EVA by Joan M. Wolf? YELLOW STAR by Jennifer Roy? Both are wonderful.

MotherReader said...

Now I'm so torn as to whether I should read this or not. The love it/hate it controversies are too much fun to stay out of. Hmmm.

soleil said...

i didn't like catcher in the rye either. i couldn't even finish it.

Unknown said...

I'm really sorry that Becky had sucn a negative response to the character and my book. I hope other readers -- especially those who are torn, like "motherreader" -- will read the book and judge it for themselves.

Becky said...

For the record, I'm not saying that others won't read this one and enjoy :) Reading is subjective, very subjective. So much depends on mood and life-experience.

lizabeth said...

I am currently reading this book. I find myself reading the pages slower and slower and distracting myself with other things because I do not want this book to end. It is a beautiful read and the character is so intelligently witty that you cannot help but be pulled into his life. I wanted to see if other people thought the same and that is how I came upon your page. As for me the review could not be more wrong. I'm also reading this book partly because it was being compared to the likes of the character Holden which is my all time favorite read. I was thinking how could it compare, but as I read through the pages I am finding myself very attached and simply said you cannot help but love this character James. Thank you Peter for such a thought provoking, refreshing and brilliant piece of writing.