Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
by Peter Cameron
First published Sept. 2007
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around him–including the expectation that he will go to college in the fall. he would prefer to move to an old house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You takes place over a few broiling days in the summer of 2003 as James confides in his sympathetic grandmother, stymies his canny therapist, deplores his pretentious sister, and devises a fake online identity in order to pursue his crush on a much older coworker. Nothing turns out how he’d expected.
“Possibly one of the all-time great New York books, not to mention an archly comic gem” (Peter Gadol, LA Weekly), Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the insightful, powerfully moving story of a young man questioning his times, his family, his world, and himself.
Summary and photo from Goodreads.com
Do you wanna know a secret? I’m actually INCREDIBLY dramatic in my head. I try not to let that side of me get the best of me, because it can be ridiculous. Today was for the most part one of those “THIS DAY IS TERRIBLE AND THE WORLD IS GONNA END” which is why this book stuck out at me for some reason. I was pessimistically reading all of these summaries where the girl has a problem, but then with perseverance and luck its fixed and some extraordinary thing happened and BOOM she meets the love of her life and all is well and I got really frustrated. I wanted something more… unhopeful. Hahahahahaha. So I picked up this one. And it gave me EXACTLY what I was looking for. By jove, Peter Cameron– you’re a psychic.
I tell you this because I feel like the mood I was in plays a big factor to my reaction of this book. Pretty much we were two peas in a pod. It’s interesting though now, because as I write this my mood is COMPLETELY opposite (happy, content as opposed to gray, ugh).
1. So here’s the thing. If you’re looking for a book to wallow in this one is for you. The main character, James, is a smart 18-year-old boy who is having a ton of problems finding his place in the world. He feels extremely lonely, yet has no real desire to reach out and make connections with people (save for two already established people in his life). His family is pretty broken. His parents are divorced and his mother (whom he lives with) is having a hard time finding love again and his older sister is openly in a relationship with a married man who has children (this kind of caught me off guard). Already James doesn’t have any good role models for love, which probably doesn’t help an already reclusive boy pave his way into friendships and romance.
2. Considering it’s a first-person narrative you pretty much see the world and James through James’ eyes. The thing that stuck out the most about him to me was that either he didn’t really know himself or he didn’t want us, the readers, to know him. Even little things like the lack of romance in his life wasn’t just easily given up to us. We don’t officially learn more about his love life until way later on in the book after it has been mentioned by others at least twice. While it made it a little harder to understand James, it fit the book perfectly. One of the things about this book is James doesn’t know why he is happy and he doesn’t like to draw close to people. Thus we, like James, were able to experience his lack of place in the world by being in his head, but we were separated just enough from him to still be an outsider and not completely sucked into his head.
3. In the summary from Goodreads I have above, I found that the use of the word “portrait” to describe this book was amazingly accurate. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You was a portrait of James at 18. Since the book ended rather abruptly with a ton of loose ends left dangling it felt like I was looking at this book, then, left with nothing else to look at, I had to keep on walking. Yet again, it really fit James’ personality. One thing is certain about his character– he’s not necessarily the “take charge!!” kind of boy, so it fit that the story sort of faded until it was finally gone. Which makes me sad, because it’s probably how the rest of his life is going to go unless somewhere outside of this book he comes across a catalyst for a character change.
4. Honestly, I feel like I’m missing something about this book. Once I was done I flipped to the author’s bio on the back to see if there was any more information and well, it is the most minimalist author bio I’ve ever seen! I kind of can’t stop looking at it. It’s literally three lines long with no picture. So coming up empty handed with information I searched Peter Cameron’s website, but didn’t find too much information that would lead me to the key of this book. Maybe it’s just the quietness of the book or maybe I missed something.
5. There were some quotes I really liked and thus will record them here:
“I think that’s what scares me: the randomness of everything. That the people who could be important to you might just pass your by. Or you pass them by. How did you know? Should I turn around and talk to the Mexican boy? Maybe he was lonely like me, maybe he read Denton Welch. I felt that by walking away I was abandoning him, that I spent my entire life, day after day, abandoning people” (198).
“Translations are merely subjective approximations and that is how I feel about everything I say: it is not what I am thinking but merely the closest I can get to it using the faulty reductive constraints of language. And so I often think it is better to say nothing than to express myself inexactly” (98).
This is one of the quotes before the book starts from Denton Welch in Journal, 8 May 1944 11:15p.m.
“When you long with all your heart for someone to love you, a madness grows there that shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the earth. And nothing lives for you, except the long deep bitter want. And this is what everyone feels from birth to death.”
Ultimate Review: I loved this book because it was LIFE. What happens if you’re a kid and you haven’t suffered some big traumatic event in your life and you’re just unhappy? I didn’t love this book because there was not much HOPE. Please, prove me wrong, but I didn’t find too many lights at the end of the tunnel.
Random thing I learned that fascinated me in this book: So James is obsessed with this English writer Denton Welch. Apparently, Welch had set out to become a painter, but then he was hit by a car while cycling and suffered spinal damage. He wasn’t paralyzed or anything, but (from what I gather) he couldn’t continue to paint the same way, so he started to write instead. For some reason that really intrigues me– the whole painter turned writer due to situational circumstance.