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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to Youby Peter Cameron
The New York Times Book Review already got it exactly right: "It's his best work....The novel demonstrates every kind of strength....It's as if Cameron had taken the tools earned over a whole career and applied them to the materials of a first book." This is his masterpiece. There are parts that made me laugh out loud, and parts that made me ache; I wanted to keep reading and didn't want the book to end. The writing is just perfect.
James Sveck doesn't like people his own age. He has just graduated high school, but instead of listening to his parents and going to Brown University, he would rather buy an old house in the middle of Kansas. Like most eighteen-year-olds, James is incredibly self-involved, but somehow his precociousness makes him endearing as well. Although every other book jacket on the planet claims to have found the modern-day successor to Holden Caulfield, James Sveck is the closest we've come across so far. This book has been passed from person to person in the store over the past few months and received glowing recommendations from all.
Synopses & Reviews
It's time for eighteen-year-old James Sveck to begin his freshman year at Brown. Instead, he's surfing the real estate listings, searching for a sanctuary — a nice farmhouse in Kansas, perhaps. Although James lives in twenty-first-century Manhattan, he's more at home in the faraway worlds of Eric Rohmer or Anthony Trollope — or his favorite writer, the obscure and tragic Denton Welch. James's sense of dislocation is exacerbated by his willfully self-absorbed parents, a disdainful sister, his Teutonically cryptic shrink, and an increasingly vague, D-list celebrity grandmother. Compounding matters is James's growing infatuation with a handsome male colleague at the art gallery his mother owns, where James supposedly works at his summer job but where he actually plots his escape to the prairie.
In the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Booklist has hailed Cameron as "one of the best writers about middle-class youth since Salinger"), Peter Cameron paints an indelible portrait of a teenage hero holding out for a better grownup world.
"James Sveck, the 18-year-old protagonist of Cameron's (The City of Your Final Destination) first novel for young adults, is a precocious, lonely and confused Manhattanite who believes he would be happier buying a house in Kansas surrounded by a sleeping porch than entering Brown University as planned and being surrounded by his peers. 'I don't like people in general and people my age in particular,' he explains, demonstrating his obsessive concern with language, 'and people my age are the ones who go to college.... I'm not a sociopath or a freak (although I don't suppose people who are sociopaths or freaks self-identify as such); I just don't enjoy being with people.' He claims people 'rarely say anything interesting to each other,' but his own observations are fresh and incisive as he reports on his exchanges at home and at work. As the novel opens, in July 2003, James's cynical older sister is having an affair with a married professor of language theory; his mother ditches her third husband on their Las Vegas honeymoon after he steals her credit cards to gamble; his high-powered father asks if he's gay; and James is stuck working at his mother's art gallery, which has mounted an exhibit by an artist with no name, of garbage cans decoupaged with pages torn out of the Bible, Koran and Torah. James's elaborate daily entries interlace with a series of flashbacks to gradually reveal the recent panic attack that has landed him in psychotherapy. Descriptions of these sessions offer not only more fodder for James's sardonic critiques of a self-indulgent society, but also an achingly tender portrait of a devastatingly alienated young man. A single reference yields something of an explanation: James saw, at close range, the planes crash into the Twin Towers. The closest he can come to commenting is to turn to a story about a woman whose disappearance after 9/11 went unnoticed for a month: '[It] didn't make me sad. I thought it was beautiful. To die like that... to sink without disturbing the surface of the water.' With its off-balance marriage of the comedic and the deeply painful, its sympathetic embrace of its characters and its hard-won hope, this smart and elegantly written novel merits a wide readership. Ages 14-up." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Peter Cameron is one of my favorite writers, and this is one of his best books, a shrewd, funny, and at times painful story about the difficulty of becoming an adult. James is a wonderful narrator — brilliant and witty, remarkably observant, and just a little infuriating. His voice is so irresistible you'll hate to put the book down." Stephen McCauley, author of Alternatives to Sex
"Cameron's power is his ability to distill a particular world and social experience with great specificity while still allowing the reader to access the deep well of our shared humanity." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"A critically acclaimed author of adult fiction, Cameron makes a singularly auspicious entry into the world of YA with this beautifully conceived and written coming of age novel that is, at turns, funny, sad, tender, and sophisticated." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Not since The Catcher in the Rye has a novel captured the deep and almost physical ache of adolescent existential sadness as trenchantly as the perfectly titled Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. You don't have to be eighteen to relate to James Dunfour Sveck and his sense of alienation from a world he doesn't understand, nor to be profoundly moved by his story. Told with compassion, insight, humor, and hope, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You deserves to be read by readers of all ages for years to come. I would have loved it as a teenager, and I love it now." James Howe, author of The Misfits
"As I drew near the end of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, I read more and more slowly because I didn't want to leave James. With his devotion to precise English, his dislike of most other people — especially those his own age — and his adoration of his grandmother and old houses, James is the ideal antihero and companion. And, most important of all, he never utters a dull sentence. This is a riveting, suspenseful, witty, and very funny novel." Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona
"The effect that comes from reading this comedic and beautiful novel is one that I particularly love and only happens with certain books — this feeling that you madly adore the narrator, that you've made this new intimate friend, and that for a little while (the duration of the book, at least) you're a little bit less alone in the world." Jonathan Ames, author of Wake Up, Sir! and The Extra Man
Its time for eighteen-year-old James Sveck to begin his freshman year at Brown. Instead, hes surfing the real estate listings, searching for a sanctuary—a nice farmhouse in Kansas, perhaps. Although James lives in twenty-first-century Manhattan, hes more at home in the faraway worlds of Eric Rohmer or Anthony Trollope—or his favorite writer, the obscure and tragic Denton Welch. Jamess sense of dislocation is exacerbated by his willfully self-absorbed parents, a disdainful sister, his Teutonically cryptic shrink, and an increasingly vague, D-list celebrity grandmother. Compounding matters is Jamess growing infatuation with a handsome male colleague at the art gallery his mother owns, where James supposedly works at his summer job but where he actually plots his escape to the prairie.
In the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Booklist has hailed Cameron as “one of the best writers about middle-class youth since Salinger”), Peter Cameron paints an indelible portrait of a teenage hero holding out for a better grownup world.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around him--including the expectation that he will go to college in the fall. he would prefer to move to an old house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You takes place over a few broiling days in the summer of 2003 as James confides in his sympathetic grandmother, stymies his canny therapist, deplores his pretentious sister, and devises a fake online identity in order to pursue his crush on a much older coworker. Nothing turns out how he'd expected.
"Possibly one of the all-time great New York books, not to mention an archly comic gem" (Peter Gadol, LA Weekly), Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the insightful, powerfully moving story of a young man questioning his times, his family, his world, and himself.
About the Author
Peter Cameron's work has appeared in the New Yorker and he is the author of several novels for adults, including Andorra and The City of Your Final Destination. He lives in New York City.
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