Monday, January 27, 2014

the spectacular now

the spectacular now
tim tharp
published 2008

Sutter Keely.  He's the guy you want at your party.  He'll get everyone dancing.  He'll get everyone in your parents' pool.  Okay, so he's not exactly a shining academic star.  He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men's shirts for a living.  But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram's V.O., life's pretty fabuloso, actually.  Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee.  Aimee's clueless.  Aimee is a social disaster.  Aimee needs help, and it's up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper.  But Aimee's not like other girls, and before long he's in way over his head.  For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else's life - or ruin it forever.

Well.  That was depressing.

Sutter Keely is an alcoholic at 18.  There's no getting around that.  There is rarely a time during his narration that he is not inebriated.  There was rarely a time during his narration that I didn't want to punch him in the face.

I made the mistake of reading this as an adult.  One who still drinks, yes, but not one who drinks to excess pretty much ever anymore.  I forgot how I was in my 20s.  I forgot how I spent nearly every night for several years drunk.  How a good night was binge drinking with my friends and feeling like the only way we could have fun was if alcohol was somehow involved.  Work provided unlimited access to booze and we took full advantage of that.  I forgot what an asshole I was when I drank.  Not a mean drunk sort of asshole, but one who did stupid stuff and thought it was hilarious.

I know that had I stayed where I was during that time of my life I might not be alive today.

And I realize that the brilliance of Tim Tharp's novel is that the entire story is told from Sutter's point of view and you, the reader are (most likely) sober while reading it and so you can read between the lines.  We know Sutter isn't the life of the party.  We know he is being mocked.  We know he has no real friends because no one wants a friend like that.  We know that he's using Aimee just as he perceives everyone else in her life does.  So Sutter becomes this horribly pathetic character to us.

And there is a moment that we're all waiting for.  The afterschool special moment where something horrible happens that changes Sutter.  Makes him realize that he can't continue living his life this way.  And it happens, but not how we expected.  And it makes the story even more brilliant than originally thought.  Because not everyone has that afterschool special moment.  Not everyone realizes the error of their ways.  Some are lost and will always remain lost.  Some don't need that moment, they just sort of come to that realization themselves.

What Tim Tharp does is give us a big dose of reality.  This isn't a glossy YA novel that splits people into Team Sutter and Team Someone Else.  This is a PSA wrapped up in damn good writing.

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