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Embrace the Weird!

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

"Embrace the weird." This is Sutter Keely's life motto. A senior in high school, he believes he has everything figured out - not college, plans, and his future but the important things, the big things: philosophies on love and laughter, beauty and business, power and people. Oh, and he can mix one hell of a martini, too. Sutter has it all as well. He has wheels, paid for by his part time job with Bob, his advice guru, at a men's clothing store, folding shirts and selling pants to clueless yuppies. It keeps him cruising, and it keeps him in whiskey and seven. He has a ton of friends but especially his best friend, Ricky, a 'spanktacular, fat' girlfriend, and a killer, mega-watt, gapped-tooth smile. So what if his mom's disinterested, his sister superficial, and his dad absent. Life is just about perfect for Sutter... even if he is flunking Algebra II. But, then, a few tips of the flask and a couple of beers later, it's not. His girlfriend dumps him, and his best friend decides to lay off the whiskey and weed - it's just not special anymore when it's the norm. So, what does Sutter do? He gets his weird on and wakes up in someone's yard, his car nowhere in sight. This is how he meets Aimee Finecky: dorky, shy, sweet, pushover, socially awkward Aimee Finecky. They drive her paper route together in an effort to locate his car, and, in the process, strike up an unlikely connection. Lunch leads to a party, a party to kissing, and kissing to a prom invite. Sutter just can't find it in himself to tell Aimee no, to deny himself, and, soon afterwards, she's floating suspended in the spectacular now with him.

Sutter is an entirely honest portrayal of a teenager, not fitting into any typical high school role typically portrayed in fiction. While on the surface, he could be classified as a teenage wasteland: no plans beyond his next laugh, his next whiskey fortified 7Up, but he's too smart (despite his grades) and too thoughtful and introspective (despite his claims to the contrary) to be dismissed as a kid halfway to being an alcoholic. Oh, he certainly has substance abuse issues, but Sutter's also a walking contradiction as well. He attempts to tell a mother that her son is unhappy, yet he won't confront of his own mother about their broken family or even admit that he wishes some stranger would have done the same for him when he was a little boy. He takes up Aimee Finecky like a project, insisting he's just trying to infuse a little confidence in the girl rather than admitting he grasped onto her as a balm to his own wounded self-esteem, trying to fix her rather than facing his own problems. And he claims to be the life of the party - sometimes even the only one living at all - when he's really hiding from his life by partying. While those around Sutter slowly realize this, he continues on in denial, making him an unsympathetic yet still likeable guy. Even though the hope is that Sutter will eventually figure it out, reality is the acceptance that the best he can offer is awareness once it's already too late. It might be spectacular, but it's also frightening, and real, and inevitable. Yet, while it lasted, it was beautiful, too -  beautifully broken. For once, an author doesn't attempt to put his character back together either. Tharp just accepts and presents Sutter the way he really is, and we are all, in our own ways, better off for having known him while the now lasted.

Five out of Five Stars

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January 2014


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