Monday, December 23, 2013

The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now  by Tim Tharp
(Borrowed from the Camden County Library System)

This was a movie based on a book, before I even realized that it was a book.  The description of Sutter Keely on the cover was enticing. How would the life of such a guy be portrayed?  Just how much is there really to this boy, the life of the party, the pal of every ex-girlfriend, the guy who starts his day with a very large Seven and Seven?

I had a hard time liking the teenage boy portrayed as so very likable, especially in the beginning of the book.  There is no doubt that he has a severe alcohol problem and no one in his family, or his life, for that matter, seems to feel the need to intervene at all. He's created a fairy tale about his father, convinced that he was a great guy that his mother drove away.  His mom has remarried and is enjoying the life upgrade she got with her new husband.  In my humble opinion, Sutter is a very worrisome individual.

I was moving very gingerly through the text. I couldn't see  how it would be possible to find a man in this all play/no work boy. His party boy ways get the girls, but they are also the cause of every break up.  Everyone is attracted to the confident, fun and funny guy who makes life exciting. He's an in the moment guy.  He's the guy who comes up with the action plan, but is suspiciously absent for the consequences. 

Sutter's friends and ex-girlfriends keep growing up and realizing that Sutter remains anchored in the present, with no momentum toward the future, just at the time when their thoughts are consumed with their futures.  People like him, they enjoy being around him, but he's the kind of person who walks the line between his peers laughing with him, or at him.  But that isn't all there is to Sutter.  It's not just that he stays in the now without ever dealing with his past or his future.  He's so present in the moment that he has a clarity there that most people do not.  He does seem to know what's best for everyone but himself. He's smart enough and objective enough about everything and everyone that is not him, that he has good advice to give.  He's not selfish and he has no avarice.  He even helps his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend become the man she needs, which he knows makes him completely irrelevant in her life.  Sutter is a catalyst.  He causes big changes, usually for the better in everyone who comes in contact with him, while he remains essentially the same.

Enter Aimee.  She's good and wholesome and hard working. There is little fun in Aimee's life. In a way, I guess that makes Sutter the perfect guy for Aimee. What starts out as Sutter deciding that he can give Aimee the fun she deserves, maybe help her stand up for herself, maybe take some action and get out of her house, away from her family and on to her own life, free of responsibility for anyone but herself.  It's a great plan, especially since it's a plan that includes giving her a better future, and from someone who doesn't give a thought to his own.  It's also a big deal to interfere so much in a veritable stranger's life.  This is where the story gets good.  Sutter has bitten off way more than a happy go lucky slacker should, his friends are scared for Aimee, and he never really fully thinks through what he's doing.  

I'm not sure I believe this is what's happening every day in teenage America, but I do think these are very complex and believable characters. I think that Tharp has managed to create an anti-hero to really root for in Sutter Keely, as it turns out.  I'm pretty sure we've all known a Sutter at some point in our lives.  Of course, the Sutter's I've known have never had his altruistic streak.  When all is said and done, I don't think I expected to like the book, or Sutter for that matter, as much as I did.  He's part role model, part cautionary tale.  I just hope readers distinguish between the two.

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