Book Review: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Synopsis: 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.

Pages: 294

Rating: 7/10

Overall: A really good insight into the teenage boy's mind, and also a look at alcholism and self-destruction/sabotage that leaves you frustrated and sad for Sutter. His denial in the face of his feelings for Aimee keeps you hopeful that he might see the light, right until the last page.
The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now is a story about a guy, Sutter, who is a few months shy of graduating high school. Not that he's bothered about that, as he is all about the Now. Sutter lives life day by day, only giving the odd passing thought to what may happen in the future.

In a lot of ways, Sutter is a very likeable guy. He is optimistic, confident and outgoing. He likes to help others experience life like he does. He idolises his absent father. I loved his completely frank way of looking at the world. Sutter sees the beauty in everything, and barely has a bad thing to say about anyone.

On the other hand, Sutter has a very self-destructive personality. Rarely is Sutter seen without a big bottle of whisky and Seven (whisky and 7-UP to you and me) in his hand. He loves to party hard and not recall it the next day. There is one moment where he declares that he will "only drink at the weekends," which is a completely empty promise to himself. Sutter would finish things before they finished him, before he could succeed or fail at them. It's like he wouldn't be able to see a good thing if it bit him on the bum!

After breaking up with his girlfriend, Sutter meets Aimee, a girl who is the archetypal goody two-shoes. She does her mum's paper round, gets soda for her layabout stepfather etc. Sutter meets her after another bender, and takes pity on her. He decides that he's going to 'help' her, by showing her the ultimate high school life of drinking and partying.

This plan goes slightly awry when he accidentally becomes her boyfriend. As Sutter explains to his bestie, he doesn't like her that way but it would be nice for her to experience this side of life. He obviously wouldn't let her fall in love with him.
Nobody's ever been young like we are right at this moment.
He woos her and wows her with his social prowess. He even takes her to prom. All the time, he gets deeper, making it harder to back out because what he doesn't anticipate is he himself falling for her. He denies it to himself vehemently, right until the bitter end. Another consequence of his self-destructiveness. He ends up getting so deep into his own denial that he ends up letting her go.

There were moments where I felt like Sutter was so close to realising his feelings, that each time he dismissed them or denied them in his own mind was so frustrating. More frustrating by far than the fact that he couldn't see his problem with alcohol.

You could see the other characters around Sutter starting to pity Sutter and what he was doing to himself, even though he was defiantly ignoring the signs. It felt like watching a car crash in slow motion.

The weak part of the book was the Dad plot. It felt shoehorned in. I didn't think the story needed Sutter to meet his dad proper. I felt like Sutter sort of knew that his dad was a good for nothing deserter, but he didn't need the confirmation. He'd built himself his own image of his dad from the few good times he had with him and, for Sutter, that was enough.

The ending is quite heart-wrenching. It feels like Sutter has given up. He's let go of the best thing that's happened to him and now all he has left is this Spectacular Now. The last paragraph feels hopeless.

I did enjoy reading The Spectacular Now. The voice of Sutter was such a perfect realisation of a teenage boy's turn of phrase and train of thought, I was immediately transported into his headspace. I thought Aimee was almost a caricature of the naïve girl-next-door. I found Cassidy to be a much more interesting character, someone who was secure in her body and knew her own self. I also prefer more hopeful endings to stories, even if they're sad.

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