September 25, 2013

Review: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

September 25, 2013
Tim Tharp wrote a nice coming of age tale of teenagers finding their way as their high school life is coming to an end, and seek their spectacular now. Living in the moment and embracing the weird through the eyes of Sutter Keely.

Just to be clear, this is a review of the novel by Tim Tharp, not the film adaption. Caution: this review contains spoilers, so read at your own risk.

SUTTER KEELY. HE’S the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually. 
Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

I've got to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The main character, Sutter, is a party animal/drunk at 18, but he's not like the typical ones we run into or see on tv. For one, Sutter is not a popular arrogant jock with all the ladies falling over their feet for him. Sutter's got a big, friendly heart. He strays from the social stigma and makes friends everywhere he goes. He knows how throw any mundane routine into an oblivion of fun. People just like him because of his sharp wit, sense of humor, effortless charm, crass jokes and behavior, and his carefree and lively spirit. That's Sutter for you: winging life as he goes. Sutter is my fictional spirit animal. 

A few of the minor characters were nice to get to know. Sutter's best friend Ricky for one. He went from a stoner bachelor to a clean and oriented individual with the help of his lady friend, Bethany. That's what I like to see in characters: them changing for the better and growing into themselves. Sutter's former girlfriend Cassidy is quite the character. She seems to somewhat bounce from Sutter to Marcus and vise versa, but ultimately it was Marcus for her. She truly does care for Sutter though. That shows through the intervention she concocted to let Sutter be fully aware of his influence and relationship with Aimee. And the big guy on campus, Marcus West. Now Marcus maybe the type of guy you don't want to mess with, but he's a goal oriented, caring guy who helps those in need. People sees the tough front he embodies, but to see him at vulnerable state is a rare sight. That's how you know he really cares for his relationship with Cassidy. Then Sutter, being the old soul that he is, help him out on the topic of his former girlfriend for the sake of Marcus and Cassidy's happiness. Like Aimee said, there's more to a person than just one thing. 

I like that Sutter's got a big heart, knows how to have a good time in any given situation, strike up a conversation with anybody, embraces the weird, because that takes an immense amount of creativity that not a lot of people puts into practice. I can see where Sutter is coming from when it comes to his mantra of "embracing the weird" and "living in the moment." People often get too caught up with planning of the future and stress over bills and whatnot, that they miss life as it passes by. They take the present for granted and wonder where time went once they catch a minute of fresh air. 

It was thoughtful, in a way, of Sutter to give Aimee a chance to experience her first relationship as practice for future ones until she meets the one she's dreamed of marrying. Yes, it was rude on Sutter's part to leave things the way he did. I'd at least thought that he would drop a letter, note, email, or a voice mail as a goodbye, but I guess everyone has a different method of the occasion. I'm a little confused with Sutter's feelings for Aimee. I mean, he truly does care for her, take an interest in the things she's into and about her life, but I felt he strung her along because he was still hung up on Cassidy the whole time. Even when Aimee left for St. Louis, and Cassidy on her way to New Mexico with Marcus.

Of course every coming of age story with teenagers, there are bound to be family issues. This story does go on about Sutter's family and Aimee's too. Sutter's father left, or so he was told to believe, when he was young. I won't spoil the real reason as to why his father left them. His older sister Holly, who got breast implants for the sake of her marriage and probably insecurity reasons, married a lawyer to be secured financially. Sutter and Holly were not close once Holly left the nest. At least they repaired their distant relationship in the end. I wished the same for them and their father. 

As for Aimee's family, she's their doormat to put it bluntly. Now Aimee is the type of girl who puts others first even if people walk all over her. See, to her, her family only need help with little mundane things, so she doesn't mind doing what they tell her to do with no complaints. That includes the paper route that her mother has her run. Aimee might do the routes most of the time, but she lets her mother take majority of the profits. It's understandable that the paychecks have to go to bills, so I'm not going to heavily touch on that. However, Aimee's mom often goes to the casino late at night or run off somewhere with her boyfriend so she has to back out of the paper route the next morning, which leaves Aimee on her own. Her mom also wants Aimee to stay after graduation to continue with the paper route, which means no dream college across the country for her. She never stood up for herself. I felt a connection to her in that way because I was in her shoes at her age: I let people walk all over me until someone came along and showed me how to put my foot down and go after what I want. It wasn't until Aimee and Sutter crossed paths and helped her grow a backbone. Once Sutter planted that backbone in her, Aimee told her mother that she is going to move in with her sister and go to college and there's nothing that anyone can about it. Aimee's relationship with her brother, mom and her boyfriend may not be decent at best, but at least her relationship with her sister seems to be on good terms.

I liked the storyline and message, but the ending did not do it justice. I expected the ending to be a know...spectacular? What I didn't like about the end was that it felt like nothing was concluded. Okay, [spoiler alert] maybe Cassidy and Marcus starting their life together in New Mexico is the only thing that was clear. But what about Aimee? Sutter said that he hugged Aimee for the last time after she got a cast for her arm. What about Sutter's best friend Ricky and his girlfriend Bethany? And what about the Sutterman himself? Did he find his Spectacular Now through all the journey? And if so, what did he take from it? Did he repair his relationship with his absentee father after their failed reunion? 

I know we're not supposed to compare a movie to it's books, but [spoiler alert] at the end of the film, Sutter goes to see Aimee where she went off to college. Does that mean he did that too in the book? Because sometimes the film adaptions help fill in the blanks or answers some questions that may arise while reading the book. There was some loose ends that didn't end up getting tied, so the ending was a bit anticlimactic to me.

Overall, the story itself is a nice coming of age tale. The story was easy to follow, the message puts things into perspective, and the pace was just right. In a way, it kind of had an indie vibe and reminded me of a modern day John Hughes film. 

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