Saturday, October 16, 2010

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

I just finished reading Peter Cameron's novel Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. One of the blurbs on the back, James Cameron's (listed as author of The Misfits but better known and beloved for Bunnicula), compared it to Catcher in the Rye, and yeah it's sort of a 2004 update. Rich New Yorker kid (James went to Sty instead of a private school, but same difference really) with divorced parents, a wealthy lawyer father and a thrice-married mom who owns a Chelsea gallery.

It's no more YA fiction than Catcher in the Rye is, but since it was published in 2007, then it's YA. Similarly, had I read it when I first read Catcher in the Rye, I probably would have loved it, but at 34, I found the hero to be spoiled and annoying, and sorry I'm just not that interested in reading about rich white teenagers dealing with their dislike of their peers and questioning whether they're interested in starting their freshman year of college in the fall (Brown, of course!).

But I did finish it. Which says something. It was a fun read. & I was thinking how the passages I marked at 34 so aren't the passages I would've marked at 18:

"I walked deeper into the woods, down a slope, and into a sort of culvert, through which trickled a narrow stream. The stream smelled a little funky and I was glad it was dark, so I couldn't see how polluted it was. ...I squatted down and covered my face, pushing the heels of my hands into the sockets of my eyes. They fit perfectly, like two halves of a whole, and my hands were exactly the right size to cradle my skull. It seemed like another example of how well human beings are designed, that you were shaped to comfort yourself."

"I always feel humbled by people who speak more than one language. I envy them. It seems with two (or more) vocabularies, you could not only say so much more and speak to so many more people, but also think more. I often feel I want to think something but I can't find the language that coincides with the thought, so it remains felt, not thought. Sometimes I feel like I'm thinking in Swedish without knowing Swedish." (This does not feel like the thinking of any 18-year-old to me.)

James' awesome grandma: "Having bad experiences sometimes helps; it makes it clearer what it is you should be doing. I know that sounds very Pollyannaish but it's true. People who have had only good experiences aren't very interesting. They may be content, and happy after a fashion, but they aren't very deep. It may seem a misfortune now, and it makes things difficult, but well--it's easy to feel all the happy, simple stuff. Not that happiness is necessarily simple. But I don't think you're going to have a life like that, and I think you'll be the better for it. The difficult thing is not to be overwhelmed by the bad patches. You mustn't let them defeat you. You must see them as a gift--a cruel gift, but a gift nonetheless."

When Nanette (the grandma) eventually dies and leaves everything in the house to him, as she told him she would, he uses "some of the money my grandmother left me" to put it all in "a climate-controlled warehouse in Long Island City" against his parents' advice--they wanted him to have it all "liquidated" but he says storing it "seems reasonable to me. I'm only eighteen. How do I know what I will want in my life? How do I know what things I will need?"

I just realized that it was Peter Cameron I saw "in conversation" with Sherman Alexie at the Strand after both their YA novels came out--Cameron's, reviewed above, which he never intended to be YA but was marketed as such, and Alexie's Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which Alexie very deliberately wrote as YA. Their take on YA was so different: Cameron thought his novel being marketed as YA really reduced it as literature (he was so infuriating and ill-informed!) and Alexie was pleased to be directly writing for a demographic that was already reading and loving his stuff.

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