There are books that you have to take apart into pieces to really get the whole meaning. They’re deceptively simple on the surface, only to contain layer beyond layers of meaning.
The real question is whether you want to take the time to take it apart.
Sutter embraces the weird. About to (just barely) graduate from high school while being either drunk or high most the time, with an amazing girlfriend, a somewhat decent job, a car, and the ability to make friends with just about anyone, he can’t think of any reason to change his ways.
That is, until his girlfriend dumps him. After a night of drinking the pain away, he wakes up lost, only to be found my Aimee Finecky, a low self-esteemed, sci-fi book reading, horse loving nerd in his grade. Sutter decides it’s up to him to make her life better.
The question is, will he let her make his life better?
This is a very character driven book. That said, it’s really hard to say if there is a plot.
For the most part, The Spectaular Now is very much about a young man going in a downward spiral while all of his friends move on to bigger and better things. Then, he decides its his duty to make another person’s life better…by bringing her down with him.
Sutter does this rather unknowingly, and to be fair he actually does help Aimee gain some confidence in herself. But she also gains a penchant for drinking.
As for the rather open ending, I’m quite satisfied with it. It’s probably the most realistic way for things to end.
You’re not supposed to like the characters in this book. You’re supposed to understand them.
At the beginning of the story, Sutter is pretty much insufferable. While he does have some good qualities, they get drowned out (rather literally) by his alcohol intake, his denial, and his flawed philosophy. He’s basically a kid who does not want to grow up.
Its hard to say whether or not Sutter develops at all. And that can be detrimental in some cases. But I sort of think the unsure character development helps depict him realistically. Ot shows off how hard a bad habit or addiction can be to break.
That being said, I don’t really like Aimee either. She’s too…malleable. I can’t say that she’s poorly constructed, because she isn’t. Far from it. I just wish I got to see more of her than what I read.
I think part of it is we as readers don’t want our protags to be weak. We want them to be strong, willing to fight against the injustices of the world. Sutter and Aimee are so terribly human, their flaws are open wounds for us to easily pour salt into. And they don’t even try to heal them, they just walk around, bearing them openly.
I really do like Sutter’s voice. I mean, I don’t like what he says and does a lot, but I like the way Tharp captures the voice of a lost teenage boy. There are points where Sutter’s voice sort of sweeps the reader up in his dreams and denial, and I genuinely would believe his flawed reasoning before he gives hint to his denial and the reader is brought back to earth.
The key to this is that Sutter’s dreams are painfully relatable. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a simple coming of age ritual and then POOF you’re an adult? Wouldn’t it be nice to just stop fighting and instead save a rainforest somewhere? Wouldn’t it be nice to have all the terrible things in your life simply be lies people told you, and the truth was actually rainbows and unicorns?
The only major problem is that the book starts off painfully slow. It takes a while before Sutter even meets Aimee, and because Sutter’s pretty static, it’s a good first third of a book of him mucking around. And that gets boring after a while.
I have been waiting this entire review to get here. Tharp’s working with some serious stuff here: alcoholism, abuse, addiction.
For every reason that I don’t like something in this book, there’s a reason for why it happened in the first place. The Spectacular Now strips down its characters and story so the reader see everything: all the wonderful and the awful and the spectacular.
And yet, the title “The Spectacular Now” isn’t a proud declaration. It’s a cry for help. Living individual moments on a buzz isn’t life. It’s a series of nows that wash a person out and leave them empty. “Spectacular”—it’s all a spectacle to Sutter.
In the end, I read The Spectacular Now as a kind of tragedy, not really a romance. It’s raw and real and yet spectacular, in its own way.
Recommendation: Read. Readers of Perks of Being a Wallflower, Eleanor and Park, and other such contemporaries should definitely read this book.