The Spectacular Now

Y’all.    Y’all.     Y’all.

Have you ever read a book that just felt like it so perfectly and exactly mirrored a situation that you were going through? So much so that it actually made you a bit paranoid? Not so much in the black helicopters kind of way, but in the “did someone follow me around and take notes on my life?” kind of way. Because that is exactly how I felt during parts of this book.

I have my own Sutter Keely. I will not bore you with the rehashed details of my life, nor will I presume that my side of that story is the only one that matters. I will simply say that this book helped me to gain a perspective that I didn’t have before, and one that made me question many of the things that I had taken for granted.

They say that books, like friends, show up exactly when you need them, and if I didn’t believe it before, I absolutely do now. I found so much of myself in main character, Aimee Finecky. Doormat? Check. Driving herself bonkers trying to live up to the expectations of everyone around her? Check. Dreaming of a world much bigger and much greater than the one she has available to her? Check. And bookworm? Double check. She is a well of creativity forever frozen in time by the fear of letting others down, of shirking responsibilities that were never really hers to begin with.

Enter her Sutter Keely. A wisecracking, charming, perpetual screw up. He is the life of every party he has ever been to. Everyone knows his name and everyone knows that he brings the best time. But he’s never serious, about anything. Recently split from his fellow party-goer girlfriend, Cassidy, and looking for a reunion, Sutter sets his sights on Aimee. He doesn’t want to date her, but he does want to help her gain the confidence to take control of her own life, all while proving to Cassidy that he is worthwhile.

I know, I know, it sounds like your usual coming-of-age dramedy…and on the surface, you would not be mistaken. But it goes so much deeper than that. Sutter is an alcoholic with an absentee father. Aimee has a less than desirable family dynamic, but boundless optimism about the future. And they find their way to each other during a time when what they each need most, is love. This would have been an easy, cut and dry narrative on teenage romance and the inevitable influence of growing up in a broken home, but Tim Tharp goes so much bigger. He saw an opportunity to serve a narrative not regularly explored: boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy realizes he’s no good for girl and breaks up with her, and SPOILER ALERT, that’s it. The boy very strongly considers how much he could grow and change in order to make himself worthy of the girl’s love…but he gets all the way real with himself and acknowledges that, even though he wants to change and be the bigger, better guy, he cannot sustain it. He will not maintain any of the required lifestyle changes, and he will ultimately fail her.

So often, the male character in these kinds of romances sees the light, changes, and then there is some form of happily ever after. Tim Tharp explores the question of “What if Prince Charming wants to change, but doesn’t”? What if the “hero” succumbs to his own self-fulfilling prophecy? But also, what if he is enough of a good guy to realize he shouldn’t get the girl?

“I do have a future to give her after all, just not one that includes me.”

It’s not a flowery, happy ending, but it is one that is so often ignored in favor of the more unrealistic growth and change “happily ever after”. Whether Sutter stays the same out of comfort, fear, or ease is never clear, but he makes the choice to not find out what he is ultimately capable of, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. You root for the kid, and he just simply gives up. It becomes an extremely painful case of seeing the potential in someone else and being unable to make them see it, too.

And even though the final goodbye between Sutter and Aimee is actually not a part of the book, you just know that Aimee will be forever changed, and more than a little scarred, when it comes. She has built this entire life, a whole future, around someone who is preparing to simply bow out “for her own good”. I want to like Sutter. I do. He has good intentions, he was dealt a pretty heinous lot in life, and he is, at least, enough of a good guy to realize that he is not giving Aimee the kind of love she deserves….but he is an unbelievable little shit. That’s right, I said shit. I wanted to take him and shake him so hard at the end of the book. His whole future, everything he has been looking for in the world is available to him, in some way, through his relationship with Aimee, but he cannot even bring himself to try. Watching someone get that close to a life that they have wanted, a life that would greatly serve them in the ways that they have been denied, and then not achieve it is so utterly painful.

Take a leap and a bound from this and add to it that someone in Hollywood optioned this novel for a theatrical release. Enter Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller as Aimee and Sutter….then give me snacks and a blanket to snuggle up to during the rough parts. Source material aside, I found the movie to be fairly enjoyable, with one major issue. I found the ending of the novel heart-wrenching in its depressing honesty, but I found the film’s hopeful, “Good Will Hunting” style ending even more emotionally painful. What girl, myself included, hasn’t found herself just hoping that a former flame would finally get it, and then “go see about a girl”? Please stop doing this to us Hollywood! Stop letting us believe that the lovable slacker just had to get emotionally hit over the head with how much he misses the girl, annnnd cue big lifestyle changes! NO! We are onto you! It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way at all. Sure, there are women out there who will get that crazy film ending, and there are even more who will get the book ending….but most of us? We’ll fall into the murky waters of the in-between. And that can be a very painful place for hope.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed all of you with a little lowdown and commentary about Tim Tharp’s “The Spectacular Now” I will say that it helped a lot to see what might potentially be the other side of my own story. It helped me work through the kinks and all of the bumps along my road, but most importantly, It allowed me to come to terms with the fact that change is not for everyone. It’s a decison. A want that has to be stronger than any other feeling. It’s a job that will never truly be finished. Partners help. Hope is a lifeline. But the real change, well that has to come from inside.

I apologize for spoiling any part of the story for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading it yet, but like I said before, these posts are not going to be reviews so much as they are going to be discussions about how the books I read affect, and possibly even change my life. In my defense, this is one book that I feel should come with some form of friendly “here’s how to not be emotionally and/or psychologically damaged by this book” sort of semi-spoilery breakdown. So, you’re welcome.

I will try to have a new post up much more quickly the next time around. And as for me….here is a list of what’s currently taking up my time and my attention:

  • I See You by Clare Mackintosh
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
  • The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern
  • 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin

As always, feel free to pick up any one of these and tell me what you think!

Library wishes and bookstore dreams my loves.