Sunday, June 7, 2009

Review: Youthful sarcasm

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James Sveck is snarky. Like a Gawker post. Thus he’s an antihero of our times.

He’s an eighteen-year-old high school graduate who doesn’t like talking. He thinks it’s a waste of time, mostly because the words that come out of his mouth are not the words that fully express himself. So he chooses to be silent.

He doesn’t like associating with other people, mostly because he doesn’t find the conversation gripping and mature enough for him to pay attention to. Therefore, he’s still a virgin and continuously dateless.

He believes that people who go to college are all uninspired and cookie-cutter human beings. And this is why he doesn’t want to attend Brown University in the autumn.

And somehow James Sveck is one of the most compelling narrators I’ve come across in some time.

James tells his story in Peter Cameron’s new novel Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, which has just been published in paperback. Although marketed as a young adult novel, it’s certainly more than that BISAC label – I was able to read this in one sitting as James is riveting, creating a perfect sense of sympathy, humour, and distaste, allowing the reader to re-feel what it was like to be confused, angry, and apathetic towards life as an adolescent.

The setting: New York City, 2003, summertime.

The core of the novel: Working at his mother’s art gallery (his mother James finds to be a flake as she’s on her third husband who recently stole credit cards from her during their honeymoon), James assists this art school genius John, an Ivy League and Courtauld Institute graduate who basically runs the place. One day James decides to play a trick on him and, using the dating service that John uses, creates a profile of John’s perfect match, captures his older colleague’s attention; and, thereafter, awkwardness ensues.

A collection of characters fully illuminate the problems and predicaments of James’s life: from his all-business lawyer father to his sister’s overly-pretentious and in-an-open-marriage boyfriend Rainer Maria; from his once-famous tender grandmother to his Samuel-Beckett-meets-Woody-Allen psychologist. The dialogue between all of these people runs from being ridiculously hysterical to overtly tragic, and, at least to me, all very worth it. Every statement feels weighed and judged. The prose is spare. The relationships between the characters are all painfully exposing. And the psychologist versus James battles do elicit the dialogue one could pick out of Waiting for Godot or Endgame, without being pretentious or terribly venerating. The novel also brings to mind The Great Gatsby in many ways with its New York summer setting and its own version of youth and self-discovery.

It’s a heartwarming and heartretching tale of first love, personal identity, slow discovery, and hysterical sarcasm, packed together in a 229 page book. James’s distant-yet-intimate style of storytelling snowballs this novel to an end and will be the reason you won’t want to close the covers of his book.

2 comments:

Kari said...

This is marketed as YA fiction? It's unfortunate that every book with a teen as the main character gets stuck in the YA genre.

Nihal said...

thanks Smooth Sal, I'm going to read this one!