Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: The Spectacular Now

Title: The Spectacular Now
Author: Tim Tharp
Format: Movie Tie-In Edition
Publisher: Ember
Publication Date: July 9, 2013
Original Publication Date: October 20, 2008
Source: Purchased at Half Price Books
So, my girlfriend, Cassidy, is threatening to kick me to the curb again, my best friend suddenly wants to put the brakes on our lives of fabulous fun, my mom and big sister are plotting a future in which I turn into an atomic vampire, and my dad, well, my dad is a big fat question mark that I’m not sure I want the answer to.

Some people would let a senior year like this get them down. Not me. I’m Sutter Keely, master of the party. But don’t mistake a midnight philosopher like me for nothing more than a shallow party boy. Just ask Aimee, the new girl in my life. She saw the depth in the Sutterman from that first moment when she found me passed out on the front lawn. Okay, so she’s a social disaster, but that’s where I come in.

Yes, life is weird, but I embrace the weird. Let everyone else go marching off into their great shining futures if they want. Me, I’ve always been more than content to tip my whisky bottle and take a ride straight into the heart of the spectacular now.  

My Review

The Spectacular Now is the first book that I've read by Tim Tharp. To be honest, I'd never even heard of him until I was in the theater watching the film adaptation of The Spectacular Now. Yes, I watched a movie adaptation before reading the book! Oops! But because I really enjoyed the movie, I figured that I would read the book just to compare and contrast. I kind of wish that I wouldn't have read the book because I just didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. If I'd read this first, I probably wouldn't have watched the movie because I just didn't connect with it. 

The characters in The Spectacular Now are unique in their own ways. At first, I really liked Sutter. I liked how he was carefree and just a teenager. He loves being with his girlfriend, but he's not the best boyfriend in the world. But he has his demons, and for Sutter, it's alcohol. After a while, his act got old, and the other characters in the book noticed. Sutter's girlfriend, Cassidy dumps him. His best friend, Ricky, finds a girlfriend and cuts back on drinking and smoking pot. Sutter gets left behind. I didn't feel like anything was really happening with Sutter, and maybe that's why everyone moved on. That's what I would do. Yes, he was moving about his day-to-day life, but he wasn't learning anything. He just kept making the same mistakes, and I truly felt bad for him. But then Sutter meets Aimee. She's everything that Sutter wouldn't look for in a girlfriend. She's smart. She likes books, and she wants to write one. But she has huge dreams. She wants to go to college. She want to work for NASA and then retire to her own ranch. She's adorable, but she's what Sutter calls a nerd. He thinks that he'll help her out for a while. He wants to build up her confidence, but when he's drunk, he promises to take her to prom, and things change for the two. He doesn't realize it, but he's actually changing little by little. He's on time for dates now, but he still likes his 7UP and whiskey. 

If you really think about it, it's an amazing plot because Tharp tackles issues that people need to talk about. Addiction. Depression. Ruined relationships. Family problems. It's one that all teenagers, and even adults, will relate to. Don't we all put on a front sometimes and act like someone that we're not? Don't we all try to act tougher? Don't we all like to put on an illusion of happiness when we're crying out in pain on the inside? I think so, even if it's just for a little while. That's what I got out of The Spectacular Now. All these characters hide behind the thing they think their peers want them to be. Sutter hides his feelings by drinking. Cassidy admits that she wants something more out of a relationship than she can get from Sutter. Ricky changes when he starts dating his first girlfriend. And Aimee hides herself away in her bedroom, surrounded by science fiction. It's sad, but it's heart-achingly real. 

So why didn't The Spectacular Now fully work for me? I really think it was the writing style. I felt like I was fooled because the first few chapters were really good. They were funny and engaging, but then it takes a turn for the worse. The rest of the novel is just very plain. As I was reading, I felt like it was boring. There was nothing spectacular about Sutter's narration, and I was bored throughout most of the book. If I were reading this aloud, I'm pretty sure it would all come out in monotone, and that's just not fun. It makes for a dull reading experience. Another thing about the writing that really bothered me were the short chapters. I felt like they all ended abruptly. There were times when it felt right, but most of the time, I felt like the next chapter could have been included in the previous one. The book would have flowed a lot better that way, and I really think I would have enjoyed it a lot better.

While I didn't particularly enjoy Tharp's The Spectacular Now, I appreciated it for all of the many issues that are included in the book. I think it's brutally honest, but it's just a bit too depressing for me. I know it's supposed to be depressing, but honestly, it's a bit too much. I know this one is a few years old now, but I do think that it's still an important book. It will get people talking, but unfortunately, it's just not the book for me.

Tim Tharp lives in Oklahoma where he writes novels and teaches in the Humanities Department at Rose State College. In addition to earning a B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and an M.F.A. from Brown University, Tim Tharp has been a factory hand, construction laborer, psychiatric aid, long-distance hitchhiker, and record store clerk. His first novel, Falling Dark (Milkweed Press), was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. Knights of the Hill Country (Knopf Books for Young Readers) is his first novel for young adults and was named to the American Library Association's Best Books of 2007 list. Tim's new YA novel, The Spectacular Now, (Knopf Books, Nov. 2008) was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.

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