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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouReview - Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
by Peter Cameron
Listening Library, 2007
Review by Christian Perring
Feb 3rd 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 6)

Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (the title is a quotation from Ovid) is marketed as a Young Adult title, but it is far more sophisticated and articulate than most YA novels.  James Sveck is 18 and it is the summer between high school and college.  He is set to go to Brown, and he is spending the summer working at this mother's art gallery in Manhattan.  He does not do much there, and it quiet since the main work there are carefully constructed garbage cans made by an artist who refuses to use a name because he does not want to be labeled.  James is very much at home in the expensive and precious art world, but he is also very lonely.  He has no friends and he looks at most people with a hyper-critical disdain.  Since he is very well read and is also very smart, he does not find it difficult to see the flaws in others.  He is so isolated that he had a crisis in the Spring term, and he unsure whether he wants to go to college at all, so he parents get him to see a therapist. 

James's family is a mess.  His parents are divorced.  His mother has just returned from her honeymoon, alone, with her third marriage already over.  His father is going to get cosmetic surgery on his face to make himself look younger.  His sister Gillian is dating an older married man called Rainer Maria, who has convinced her that her name should be pronounced with a hard "G."  The only person James really feels he can talk to is his grandmother, although he does talk to his therapist some. 

Even though he is smart and literate -- his favorite author is Anthony Trollope -- James often has remarkably unrealistic ideas.  He wants to move to small-town Indiana and spend his time reading while working in a low paying job.  At various points in the novel, James's ideas seem so far from common sense that he seems a little unhinged.  The idea that he could survive for five minutes outside of his very sheltered Manhattan life seems laughable, and he really does not seem ready to start college.  So the question of the novel is whether he will get his act together or whether he will go off the rails altogether.  For much of the novel, he looks like he could go either way. 

Cameron's novel is gripping and subtle.  It will probably not appeal to the standard high school student, but those who like the idea of Manhattan life, Trollope and the contemporary art scene should like it.  The unabridged audiobook is performed with great style and panache by Lincoln Hoppe

© 2009 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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