“Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of my own spectacular now.”
Sutter Keeley is great in his own mind. Larger than life, always the life of the party. Sutter is, surely, as irresistible as he is wise.
The reality, unsurprisingly, is a little different. What Sutter defines as a life as “god’s own drunk” is a boilerplate drinking problem. The rest of Sutter’s charms are debatable at best and vary wildly depending on if you’re asking one of his beautifully amicable ex-girlfriends, his family who is legitimately worried, or his friends.
Sutter is content to live the moment, whether it involves trying to win back his gorgeous, fat ex-girlfriend Cassidy or befriending the mousy, painfully nerdy Aimee, or getting a drink. The problem with living in the moment is that eventually everyone else starts to pass you by in The Spectacular Now (2008) by Tim Tharp.
Your reaction to this book is going to depend a lot on how you feel about Sutter. Tharp provides another fine addition to the already well-populated world of lovable alcoholics in fiction. The problem–not just here but in general–is that this general affability belies the fact that alcoholics are train wrecks and only very rarely lovable.
There are no consequences for Sutter in his own mind or in real life. Drunk driving never leads to an arrest or even a ticket. Drinking only impairs his judgement so far as it needs to go for the plot. While no story needs to have a message or a moral, it felt strangely one-sided to read this story and watch Sutter skate through life on his charms, his flask, and very little else.
Following the story thread with Aimee and Sutter, it’s possible to argue that Sutter is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy meant to flit through life, fall in love and leave his love interest the better for their acquaintance. Except Sutter is a really terrible MPDB and profoundly bad at making anyone’s life better.
The other reading, the one I favor, is that Sutter is a sociopath. Everything in the narrative is sinister. Sutter is sinister. Ideas and themes are touched upon but never fleshed out enough to really matter or leave an impact. Sutter’s unreliable narration raises more questions than the story ultimately answers.
While Tharp’s writing is excellent and completely on-point The Spectacular Now is lacking in character development and, on a smaller level, heart. With a narrative that reads more as a mid-life crisis than teenage unrest, this book is interesting but ultimately frustrating.
Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Slumming by Kristen D. Randle, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Wild Awake by Hillary T. Smith, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman