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Saturday, January 26, 2013

‘The Spectacular Now’ by Tim Tharp

 From the BLURB:

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.

Everyone knows that if you want a good time, you call Sutter Keely. He’s the guy with a bar in his boot, enough whisky in his flask to go round and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘embarrassment’. There’s no doubt that Sutter is the life of any party – but when it comes to relationships, he fizzes pretty quick. He’s accumulated a string of ex-girlfriends in his eighteen years, and remained friends with every single one of them. But right now he’s hoping to hold on to his current girlfriend, the gloriously fat and beautiful Cassidy – of Icelandic eyes and Nordic locks. But Sutter can’t do the one thing that Cassidy asks of him; to consider her feelings. So Cassidy dumps him, and Sutter finds healing in the bottom of a whisky bottle. . . 

Aimee Finicky finds Sutter passed out on a strangers’ lawn. Of course she knows who he is, they’ve been going to the same school for years now and she can remember every class they shared and every hilarious thing he did – he’s cool and popular, so it’s no wonder he doesn’t recognise quiet, shy Aimee. 

After sharing a paper-route one morning, Sutter decides to ‘save’ Aimee. She has no self-esteem, a gambling mother and Walrus-like stepfather. She wears a purple puffer jacket that makes her look like a Christmas ornament, and her best friend is a miniature tyrant. Sutter decides to take her under his wing, and not a moment too soon. 

But it might not be Aimee who’s in desperate need of help. After all, Sutter has never quite recovered from his parent’s divorce and lies to himself about his idyllic absentee father. His sister has been angry with him ever since he set her husband’s suit on fire. And his best friend, Ricky, has gained a girlfriend and some perspective on Sutter’s wild partying ways. Then, of course, there’s Cassidy – who Sutter stills pines for, and intends to win back. 

Sutter Keely may be the life of every party, but at some point the lights always come on and the music eventually fades. 

‘The Spectacular Now’ is the 2008 young adult novel by Tim Tharp, which was a National Book Award Finalist.

I've been recommended this book for a solid five years now. I bought it and added to the TBR pile, and would occasionally re-read the blurb or scan the first page – but I was never moved to read. And then I heard from Persnickety Snark that a film adaptation was screening to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival. This intrigued me. And when I found out Shailene Woodley (‘The Descendants’) was in the lead as Aimee, I decided to get on board this bandwagon. And I’m sooooooo glad I did, because ‘The Spectacular Now’ is flippin’ superb, and if it's half as good a movie as it is a book, then it will live up to the spectacular. 



There’s a certain plot trope called ‘Beautiful All Along’ – which is as it sounds, that a nerdy-type girl is plucked out of social obscurity by the popular jock who then makes her over, only to discover she was Beautiful All Along. Weeeeeeell . . . Tim Tharp takes that trope, puts it into a blender and hits ‘obliterate’, and what pours out is a disarmingly complex and refreshing young adult novel that’s part comedy with a heavy dose of stalled morality. 

Our ‘jock’ in this case is no jock, but rather popular party boy Sutter Keely who doesn’t think he’s an alcoholic, even though he frequently drinks first thing in the morning and by himself. He’s a good, harmless guy but he’s vapid and seriously lacking in self-awareness. Aimee is no nerd, but rather a downtrodden wallflower with the world on her shoulders.  And rather than the Beautiful All Along story being told from Aimee’s perspective, we get it from Sutter’s. This is not a romance – and that will frustrate some people. Sutter is not a knight in shining armour – he’s a ticking time bomb who doesn’t know he is his own detonator and Aimee is his doomed damsel. 



Tharp has such a great rhythm in this book. Sutter is a genuinely funny guy, he’s charismatic and oozing a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him utterly endearing. But slowly Tharp starts chipping away at Sutter’s armour to reveal the crippling lies he tells himself – and readers start to see what a few of his classmates have already realized; that Sutter believes those lies.

While I was reading this I was thinking that it would be a hard book to adapt, only because the writing is so lush and Sutter’s interior voice so vital to the book. Tharp writes something delicious. It’s little things in the description; 


Her voice is so soft. If it were a food item, it’d be a marshmallow. 

But Sutter’s worldview monologues are also kinda brilliant, and I'd hate to lose them in the screenplay. So I was really happy to see one movie review in particular that says there are long stretches of banter and blocks of back-and-forth dialogue between characters. 

We’re not the Faster-than-the-Speed-of-Light Generation anymore. We’re not even the Next-New-Thing Generation. We’re the Soon-to-Be-Obsolete Kids, and we’ve crowded in here to hide from the future and the past. We know what’s up – the future looms straight ahead like a black wrought-iron gate and the past is charging after us like a badass Doberman, only this one doesn’t have any letup in him

Now, as to the Sutter and Aimee ‘romance’ – some people will hate it. They’ll just downright hate it. But I revelled in its originality and honesty; I was so glad that Tharp took the road less travelled in teen romances, and the book is the better for it. 

“Hey, I told you – I’m not going to ask her out for a date. Let me repeat, she is not a girl I’m interested in having sex with. Not now or any time in the future. I will not have sex with her in a car. I will not have sex with her in a bar. I will not have sex with her in a tree. I will not have sex with her in a lavatory-ee. I will not have sex with her in a chair. I will not have sex with her anywhere.”
 
“Oh right, I forgot. You’re out to save her soul. Give me a hallelujah for Brother Sutter and his messianic complex.” 
“My what?” 
“Messianic complex. That means you think you have to go around trying to save everybody.” 
“Not everybody. Just this one girl.” 
“Hallelujah, brother!”


Look, this book will kick your ass a little bit. There’s this weird thing that happens where, as a reader, you become sort of like Sutter’s girlfriends; all those who fell for his rambunctious charm and carefree loving-life in the beginning, but slowly figured out his failings and shortcomings, becoming frustrated with his wasted potential. The ending is brutal perfection, and if Tharp had concluded any other way, then the entire book would have been a sell-out. As it is, ‘The Spectacular Now’ is one of the cleverest and truest YA books I've ever read.  

5/5

2 comments:

  1. Danielle, you have me so excited to read this now! I have only read one other review of it (rated highly as well) and now I want to read it before the movie comes out :D

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    Replies
    1. Oooooohhhhh, you must get on this bandwagon, pronto! Fabulous book that will make the best anti-teen movie, ever!

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