Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Review contains Spoilers.

After finishing The Spectacular Now I had to put it down and think about it for awhile. Sutter, our party animal hero, really got to me. He reminded me of one or two people I’ve known in my life. People that pretty much squandered their potential because their addictions overwhelmed them and became the most important thing in their life. So when I had finished the book and left Sutter pretty much where I had found him, I was incredibly sad. Like Sutter, these people were super fun to be around, but the fun has to end sometime. And to most of us fun doesn’t equal waking up in the morning and taking a shot of whisky to welcome in the day.

In fact, I don’t even think that equals fun to Sutter. But he is so lost in denial about his alcoholism that he’s willing to believe anything that tells him he’s still the life of the party. And maybe that will last one or two years more, until his addictions cost him any chance of holding down a job (he’s only 18 and he already lost a job due to his inability to show up at work sober) and cost him any healthy relationships (because addicts attract addicts so they can reinforce and normalize their addictive behaviors). So, yes, I was just plum sad when I finished this book. I had a couple issues with the story. The main one dealt with Sutter’s relationship with Aimee his shy and nerdy girlfriend.

It is one of the horrors of the book that Sutter drags Aimee into his life of constant drinking. A formally repressed girl, Aimee finds confidence and loquaciousness when she has a couple drinks in her. In fact, as a special graduation gift Sutter presents her with her very own flask filled with vodka. Sutter is very obviously attempting to create someone who will not challenge his alcohol soaked existence. After a scary drunken accident where Aimee gets hit by a car and breaks her arm, Sutter and Aimee swear off drinking for awhile. Aimee seems relieved and has no problem with it, Sutter stays sober for 5 days until he relapses with a major binge. What troubled me about this is that Aimee was presented as easily walking away from the alcohol soaked existence she had been living. With two biological parents who have addictions (her deceased gas huffing father and her live gambling mother) I found it incredibly mystifying that someone with such an addictive DNA and environment would have found it so easy to stop.

I also was confused as to why Sutter seemed to have little negative effects when he went cold turkey from drinking. Perhaps it was just that the author didn’t focus on it, but I felt that someone with such an advanced drinking problem would have had more obvious mental and physiological struggles and that these should have been presented. I wished these things had been made more obvious (as obvious as the fact that he had a drinking problem and his denial of this fact was made throughout the story). I was, to be honest, a little surprised that Sutter was so open about his constant drinking. His friends certainly abetted his drinking, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was no longer acceptable to be drunk all day. Yet, he never became more secretive about it. Was that just a part of his denial?

I would be very interested to hear what a teen takes from this story. This seems to be a cautionary tale, but so much isn’t directly told I wonder what they will take from the story.

This title is nominated for the 2008 National Book award along with What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.


Ms. Yingling said...

Not a middle school title, which is why I didn't get into it, but I'm with you. I was bothered that it didn't have more of a lesson to it. I suppose teens might like that, but it was disturbing to read as an adult. Thanks for the very good review.

Patti said...


Usually I find myself wishing the author was less obvious with the moral of the story, here I was left wishing he was more obvious. Or something. I wasn't completely satisfied at any rate.

Sarah O'Holla said...

I don't think it's meant to be a cautionary story at all. It's just a story about life. Sometimes people don't change- that's what makes the book so good. I also think that high school aged teens will get that. It doesn't glamorize alcoholism and it is realistic that when the book ends Sutter is still an alcoholic based on his actions. The last paragraph reminded me of ON THE ROAD, a sort of rambling Dean Moriarty type of ending. "I say goodbye as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now." I think of Dean Moriarty.

Anonymous said...

you're exactly right. Itisn't a sorry to learn from. It just a story of life she how teens go through high school.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you are giving teenagers enough credit. A teenager myself, I read the story and was able to find the message in it by learning from the mistakes that the character himself did not see. The character of Sutter's father is just the foreshadowing of what Sutter's future clearly is: it shows that Sutter's actions do not come with out consequence. After all he did loose his best friend and his first girlfriend. Through Aimee you see the dangers of succumbing to the pressures of fitting in with the "it" crowd. I was also very sad when I finished the book because of how realistic it is. In my own graduating class I see people down a similar path, caught up in the "now" and the "partying". No matter what advice they are given or book with a great moral story, they are not likely to change. Just like Sutter they will go on living believing they are invincible.