The Spectacular Now (by Tim Tharp)

28 05 2013

spectacularnowHollywood has more than definitely discovered YA literature. One of the things that (especially) the adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower has done, is make everyone a YA expert all of a sudden too. The Hunger Games movie set the YA dystopian genre on the map for many laymen and with film buzz about recent (bestseller) novels such as Divergent or The Maze Runner, fans of that genre will hopefully be more than spoilt. In the contemporary realistic genre the most anticipated adaptation is probably The Fault in our Stars, which will most likely also make your grandmother, neighbor and dentist who hadn’t heard about YA yet, a connoisseur… we still have a whilst to wait for that to happen, though (IMDB has it in pre-production), but fans of Perks and other contemporary stuff can already go out and see The Spectacular Now this summer (it was a hit at Sundance apparently). A weird tidbit: the female lead in TFIOS, Divergent and The Spectacular Now is played by the same actress, Shailene Woodley.

Back to the book, which was a 2008 National Book Award finalist. Sutter Keely is a high school senior who goes where the party is, and if there is no party, he’ll make one himself: he’s well-liked, makes everyone laugh… lives in the now, the spectacular now. He doesn’t care for long term plans or committed relationships, so when his girlfriend Cassidy dumps him he doesn’t mind too much, as long as he has a drink in his hand, he’s happy… and since he’s drunk most of the time, he’s also happy most of the time.

Tim Tharp has done a marvelous job in characterizing Sutter as – here it goes – the most obnoxious  and hateful character ever! The cat completely and utterly hated the way Sutter behaved around most of the other characters in the book, his sister, his (ex-)girlfriend, Cassidy, Aimee… especially the way he thinks and speaks about women is so incredibly sexist it made me want to slap him, ugh! If I knew a Sutter Keely in real life, I would hate him with a vengeance, the shallowness, the wannabe star mentality… so incredibly hollow! Yuck!  I’d hope he got into his car, in his drunken stupor, and hit the nearest tree. Seriously. I wouldn’t want to know that guy up close.

But… I have to give Tim Tharp props. A teenager’s brain is inherently “set for action” and has poor brakes, and Tharp has done characterization brilliantly here. Because obviously the heavy drinking and the living in the now, being the party animal 24/7, is a way for Sutter Keely to hide who he is… and he thinks he’s nobody, a whole lot of emptiness, trying to fill that void with partying and lots of whisky. At first Sutter doesn’t seem to see any problems in the ways that he is handling his life and his future (or lack thereof), and he doesn’t see how he’s a bad influence on the girl “he wants to save” (Aimee Finnicky) because he thinks she’s such a total social disaster. Luckily, there are a few people in Sutter’s life who do see that something is wrong with the way Sutter is behaving, and that when people laugh when Sutter’s around it’s not just because they laugh with Sutter, but they laugh at him.

Sutter’s voice is the main pull and drive of the novel  and at first the story just meanders on. There’s no real direction it seems, just like Sutter gets by day by day without any fixed plans for tomorrow except for finding the next 7up & whisky. As a reader, though, you clearly feel that Sutter’s in a downward spiral, behavior-wise.  There is one plotline, that as a result of that very slow beginning, felt sort of forced and that is the father plotline. I get why it is important to Sutter at the end, but it might have been better, structurally speaking, if the reader had been made aware of it earlier on.

The Spectacular Now is contemporary coming-of-age and the insight that Sutter is getting to…well, let’s say that it’s just inevitable and that a lot of people probably won’t like it. Although there’s no explicit moral here (luckily) Tharp does manage to make you think about hope vs. hopelessness. Given the fact that Sutter Keely is so clearly a teenage addict…well, I don’t have to tell you which way is up, right? Tharp delivered a completely honest view of a guy like Sutter Keely and what it means to want to save and be saved at the same time.  This is a book with a very powerful ending, that invites the reader to draw his/her own conclusion, and some will still see a flicker of hope here, whilst others will find the ending either too depressing or just depressing enough to be realistic… if that makes any sense at all…

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