Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

By Peter Cameron

James is 18. He's been accepted to Brown (but is more tempted to buy a house in Kansas and live alone in obscurity.) Meanwhile he's working in his mother's art gallery in Manhattan.

It's a summer of Angst, Museums, Therapy, Confusion, Sarcasm, a Crush on the man who runs the gallery, and growing up.

You gotta love the title, and "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" has gotten great reviews. You can even read the first chapter on Peter's website!

Add your review of this book in "comments!"


Anonymous said...

This book was interesting. I really don't know exactly how to feel about it. Part of me likes his questioning, his wanting to run away, and the way he's all over the place. Another part of me is just confused and frustrated by it. But I think that means that the character is interesting enough to get you emotionally involved, right? I think it might just be one of those books you need to either read really slowly, or read a few times to fully get it.

Anonymous said...

James Sveck is obsessed with linguistic precision (one of his many quirks that turn out to be symptoms of much deeper issues) and logic. He can get pretty belligerent when correcting others or putting them in their place - unless they happen to be John Webster, the gallery assistant, or Nanette, his grandmother.

Come to think of it, James hates everyone and everything except those two people, and he spends the entire novel challenging, antagonizing, embarrassing, and just plain looking down at humanity without fully understanding why.

James is one of those characters we love and hate. On one hand, he's charming even in the midst of all the cynicism and bitterness - even funny at times - and on the other hand, he's incredibly insufferable and selfish and short-sighted. The novel explores his struggles with his anti-social tendencies - that is, he struggles because he doesn't understand why he's so angry and alienated, and why he fails in his attempts at seeing the world in a more positive light. Of course, it doesn't help that he's stuck with a family whose members are so wrapped up in their own issues and yet regard him as the "abnormal" one.

Cameron wrote this novel without teen readers in mind. In fact, he was surprised when his publisher decided to market the book as Young Adult. I can certainly see the reason for the publisher's decision. James captures sadness and disaffection as only a teenager on the verge of manhood could experience, and through his eyes, we can see how important it is for youngsters to question and challenge norms as a way of understanding the world, understanding adulthood, and understanding themselves. We also see, in James's conversations with John and his grandmother, how warped his views can get, and how much of a sympathetic character he really is in the end, warts and all.

This book is incredibly nuanced. I look at this more as literary fiction, not young adult, though teenagers - especially older ones - will see themselves so clearly in James, given the immediacy and the intimacy of his narration. But James's story also works along more abstract lines, and much of the book's impact lies in what he leaves unsaid. It hits us on an intellectual as well as a gut level, and its effects are difficult to shake off. The sophistication in Cameron's writing will certainly appeal to older readers who have the benefit of the distance created by time when they see their younger selves mirrored in James.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You has been compared to Catcher in the Rye. I must admit that I've never read Salinger's novel (yes, my bad), so I can't really give an opinion on that - other than the fact that I can never think of Catcher in the Rye without associating it with Mark David Chapman, which isn't a good thing for Cameron's novel. On the other hand, this book offers a pretty complex and multi-layered look into a young man's struggles in understanding himself and his place in the world that I wouldn't be surprised to see it transcend time the way Salinger's book continues to do.

Highly recommended.

Rebecca @ Crunchings and Munchings said...

This book is one of my favorites! Review is here: http://wp.me/p2b9fU-r4