The Spectacular Now is one of those strikingly rare stories that always disappoints you in the end. No matter who reads it or how many times it is read, the ending never fails to break your heart. Not because of a weak plot or poor writing, but because the lovably flawed protagonist can’t help but be who they are.
You know the type.
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Tharp Makes You Fall In Love with Sutter's Undeniable Charm
The Spectacular Now is set in a small Oklahoma town, where there is no shortage of stores willing to sell alcohol to a minor. There readers meet Sutter Keely, a high school senior who is loved by all and respected by none. It's not that he's an awful person, but it seems as if Sutter finds a way to disappoint everyone who cares about him. He knows people like having him around because he can always find a way to lighten the mood. Even so, he struggles to accept that he can be loved.
Sutter's cheek is through the roof, while his self-confidence is the exact opposite. Because of this, he refuses to exist anywhere but The Spectacular Now. He drinks to feel and he drinks to cope, though he has yet to admit this to himself. Ultimately, Sutter's denial of the future hurts more than it helps. Readers are left wondering whether Sutter Keely, the lovable drunk, is fated to be alone.
The Tharp Trap
Overly invested, you thumb through the pages, becoming increasingly involved with each chapter you digest. You try not to get attached because you know there’s almost no chance of a happy ending. Yet, there’s something about Sutter that drags you in. So you ignore the warning signs and continue indulging his jokes as if they’re the best thing since sliced bread. And some of them are.
The writing itself is clever and conversational so the story advances well. There is never a moment that seems irrelevant to the plot or the character development, if you can call it that. Tim Tharp is a lovely author, you can explore his Goodreads page here.
What truly makes the book is Sutter himself. Even as a misguided character, he’s personable and thus almost impossible to hate. If anything, he activates your caretaker instincts. The ones that lead you to hapless partners who you’re convinced you can, and will, save from themselves. We all know how that usually ends.
Envisioning my Internal Struggle
Reading The Spectacular Now created a glorious battle in my mind. Besides my inability to accept Sutter’s truth, I was also left with more question than answers. Who doesn’t love to be left on the edge of a cliff?
It’s hard to find the right words for all the questions in my mind, but I’ll share a few of them below:
- If Sutter is aware of his actions (or rather lack thereof) and he knows this negligence will do nothing for him to advance in life, why doesn’t he try harder since he’s terrified of being left behind?
- What would it take for Sutter to realize he has control over his own path and enough potential to do something with it?
- Are you damned to a life of shortcoming if your fear of failure exceeds your desire for change?
- Is it easier to live knowing you haven’t made your best effort? Or is it easier to mask feelings of inadequacy because you’re too scared to try?
These are but a few of the thoughts running through my mind. I also want answers about Aimee’s future. I want to know whether Sutter’s mom will ever be a good enough parent to invest time in redirecting her son’s life. Yes, I am a critical reader. Yes, I get overly invested in the characters’ lives. This is the only way to properly digest a good book.
Overall, The Spectacular Now has enlightened me to thoughts and feelings that exist in an entirely different world than I do. Part of the reason I struggle with the story’s end is because I find it hard to wrap my mind around such a bleak reality for such a young boy.
Although my vision of Sutter comes directly from his mindscape, it’s still hard to place myself in the shoes of a straight white male from a small town in Oklahoma. It’s hard to understand the impact his family situation has had on his personal development. It’s even more difficult to fully comprehend how these factors have atrophied his confidence so much, that he has developed such a serious case of alcohol dependence at the age of 18.
Sutter’s unwillingness, or inability, to commit to any moment beyond “now” reminds me of the joy of disillusionment. The way he sees the world is beautiful, which makes it all the more upsetting to figure whether he is truly content in these moments, or whether he is overcompensating (and drunk).
Oh how I wish there was someone to support the wellbeing and mental health of Sutter Keely, God’s Own Drunk.
Grab your own copy of The Spectacular Now and add to to your reading list for 2018.