Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Peter Cameron, Author . FSG/Foster $16 (229p) ISBN 978-0-374-30989-3
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. (Oct.)

This review has been corrected to fix a mistake in the title.

Reviewed on: 10/08/2007
Release date: 09/01/2007
Genre: Children's
Compact Disc - 978-0-7393-7289-0
Paperback - 229 pages - 978-0-312-42816-7
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