Book Review: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

The Spectacular Now - Tim Tharp

It’s so difficult for me to rate and review books like this. It totally took me by surprised, it totally disturbed my equilibrium. Tim Tharp has managed to coax out of me the most difficult of emotions, and I am at a loss for words.

WARNING: There may be spoilers, so watch out.

Sutter Keely. At first he was the most charismatic guy. Kind and funny and utterly compassionate, despite having a little bit of a drinking problem that he refuses to call alcoholism. I was charmed from the moment he was introduced to me, with his honest and sincere narrator’s voice and his uniqueness as a character. He was hilarious and sweet and I can’t help but like him, but at the same time it was hard for me to keep up with his mindset.

Sutter is that guy. The guy that everyone knows and everyone was casually friends with. He’s fun and impulsive and he’s the life of the party. He’s the epitome of easy-go-lucky and devil-may-care. He doesn’t take anything seriously at all, not even his own future, and he can be a bit short-sighted at times. But his story goes way beyond that. Underneath all the bravado and the jokes and the I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude is a Sutter that is lost and hurt and lonely. His father left without a trace, his mother and his stepfather doesn’t pay him enough attention and affection, his girlfriend broke up with him, and to top it all off like a cherry, his best friend Rick is now spending less and less time in his company and started to withdraw from all the things they used to enjoy together. And then Aimee came into the picture; lost and vulnerable and totally clueless about the concept of standing up for herself. Sutter feels the need to help Aimee, to teach her and guide her towards her full potential, and somewhere along the way Aimee realizes that she needed Sutter more than she ever thought she would.

When I finished this book, when I turned the last page that left me utterly confused and hurt and angry, I had to admit I pretty much hated Sutter. How can a person be compassionate and seemingly self-centered at the same time? On the one had, Sutter has this really big heart and can sympathize with anyone, even with the guy he lost his girlfriend to. But on the other, he can’t seem to see past his feelings and reservations and into those of other people who he dragged into his life. I was so completely frustrated with him, so infuriated at his actions and his inactions, at his denials, and how he’s treating poor, sweet Aimee, who opened up to him and had been honest with him and loved him with all her heart. I just couldn’t process it, what he had done in the end and what that would mean for the sweet, gullible girl that would have done anything, anything at all just to keep him. What was this book even about, Tim Tharp? What was it supposed to tell me?

And then it hit me.

Life is, for the most part, full of unhappy endings. We just don’t want to see it because we’re scared of how hideous it would look like, without the rainbows and unicorns and bucketful of confetti. Someone once told me that the people who smile the most and laugh the loudest are the saddest people on earth, and I can’t help but think how applicable that was to Sutter Keely. He hid his issues behind his goofy grin, he drowned his sorrows in mischief. He was scared to face his demons so he pretended that they didn’t exist. Sutter was on his way to the downwards spiral, he was soon to meet rock bottom, and sometimes no matter how much we hope for things to turn out differently, for a sort of miracle to stop the inevitable, it simply doesn’t happen for some people. We may not want to accept it, but it’s reality, it’s the painful, awful truth.

I did not want to accept it, trust me. Seeing how Aimee’s and Sutter’s relationship started and flourished, how she was continuously being lead to believe his lies just so he could spare her feelings, how he was being a deliberate coward for not telling the truth. It was a bittersweet thing to witness, and it impacted me in a really significant level. I wanted Sutter to change, to at least see what a beautiful thing he had in his hands, something so pure and lovely that not everybody get’s the chance to catch. Experiencing their love story was one of a kind; it conjures a helplessness that gnaws at you. And you can’t do anything to quell it; the only thing to do is watch as everything falls to pieces.

Despite the suffering he caused, I have to hand it to Tim Tharp. Not once did he break the stride in Sutter’s voice, despite his world crumbling all around him and the people he cared for slipping away from his grasp one by one, whether by choice or because he pushed them away, the tone of the narrative never strayed from Sutter’s casual and unapologetic honesty and stark sincerity. Tharp made us feel what we were meant to with this novel without being preachy or overly dramatic. He let Sutter charm us and frustrate us to the point of exhaustion, he let us hate Sutter and pity him and want him to be saved, even when we knew full well before it even happened that it was far from possible.

I still could not forgive the ending. I know deep down that it was realistic and therefore brilliant, it’s what makes this novel not just any of the other contemporary books out there. I thought this novel was thoughtful and beautifully told, but I can’t help but look back to that moment when Sutter reflected over what Cassidy said, that he never let somebody love him. Sutter tells us that he learned to let people love him eventually, but you know what he doesn’t learn? He doesn’t learn to love himself, and that to me most of all, is this book’s greatest tragedy.


You can also see this review on my blog, The Crazy Bookworm.