Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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Title: The Spectacular Now
Author: Tim Tharp
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
Series: n/a
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: August 20, 2009
Source: purchased audio
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible

This National Book Award Finalist is now a major motion picture -- one of the most buzzed-about films at Sundance 2013, starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

Sutter Keely. He’s the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.

Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

Admittedly, I only know about this book because I heard it's going to be made into a movie.  Or rather, it's already a movie and I'm just now hearing about it.  Let's not argue the finer points.  But it wasn't until I read this review that I really wanted to check the book out, having grown up in a small town in the South myself. And let me tell you, it was like reliving those days again, hearing the Sutterman regale us with his tales of small-town life.

Sure, every school has those same kids:  the hard-partiers, the wallflowers, the too-perfect jocks.  But it's different in a small town.  Trust me, I went from attending school in a suburb of Dallas to a school in a town of only 4,000 people.  It is very different.  Even the parties are different.  There may be cliques at school, but when everyone came together for a pasture party, we were all friends.  What I'm trying to say is, this story paints a very accurate picture, at least from where I'm standing.

And I don't think they could have picked a more perfect narrator for this audiobook.  He was beyond spectacular! (Heh.)  I've listened to audiobooks narrated by MacLeod Andrews before, and he did a great job with those, too, but he was totally channeling Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused ("Alright, alright, alright") when he performed The Spectacular Now.  Sutter's accent, his jovial nature, his carefree attitude...MacLeod's narration was the embodiment of this character.  Even when he voiced other characters, he gave them a life of their own.  Without a doubt, he was the best narrator for the job.

Sutter Keely is the quintessential small-town guy.  He's the guy everyone knows but that most can only handle in small doses.  He's got nothing but time, and he's going to spend it having fun...and working on a buzz.  Even at 10 o'clock in the morning.  He's just a lovable guy who could have benefited from having his father in his life.  Sutter truly is a good-hearted guy...he really is. But it's like Bob tells him, he doesn't pay any attention to the consequences of his actions.  Even if he has the best intentions, he doesn't always see the bigger picture until it's too late.

The author paints such a realistic portrait of this character.  Sutter is a complicated guy, much more complex than anyone else suspects.  He makes terrible decisions, and he's a rather bad influence to a certain wallflower who blooms under his attention.  Aimee is caught up in the whirlwind of his charisma and charm, much to her own detriment.  Sutter is misguided, and it's easy to be appalled by some of the things he does, especially where Aimee is concerned.  As much as I empathize with Sutter's character, I hurt for Aimee's more.  For Sutter to know what she's been through, how she's been brought up, and to treat her in such a way and be so neglectful of her feelings...it's damn near unforgivable.  Not that he does anything to outright hurt her, but that whole issue of consequences is another matter.

This book doesn't take the subjects of addiction and alcoholism and deal with them in black and white, but it also doesn't take them lightly.  The Spectacular Now doesn't turn into an "issues" book, constantly forcing its message on us.  While we're slowly watching Sutter's downward spiral, we see the ups and downs of addiction, how the highs keep the cycle going.  And through some intervention from his friends, we see how everyone else is handling Sutter's problem with alcohol, how it hurts them to see him continuing on this path. And it seems that they get through to him, to some extent at least.  Because he does finally decide to put one person's well-being ahead of his own.

I'm still not sure what to think about that ending.  I don't even know what I was hoping for by the end, really. I don't think I was looking for a happy ending necessarily, but some sort of closure would have been nice. Instead, I'm left feeling gutted and empty, wondering how a story that had me laughing was simultaneously pushing me ever closer to the edge of the abyss.  Honestly, I saw it coming, but I guess I just didn't want to believe it. And although it's painful and maybe not the ending I was expecting, it probably was the most realistic way to end this story.  Props to the author for not taking the easy way out.

Rating:  photo 4-1.png

About the author:

Tim Tharp lives in Oklahoma where he writes novels and teaches in the Humanities Department at Rose State College. In addition to earning a B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and an M.F.A. from Brown University, Tim Tharp has been a factory hand, construction laborer, psychiatric aid, long-distance hitchhiker, and record store clerk. His first novel, Falling Dark (Milkweed Press), was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. Knights of the Hill Country (Knopf Books for Young Readers) is his first novel for young adults and was named to the American Library Association's Best Books of 2007 list. Tim's new YA novel, The Spectacular Now, (Knopf Books, Nov. 2008) was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.

Find Tim:

Website | Goodreads


  1. Interesting -- I got this from the library and got so tied up with review books that I had to return it. Maybe I'll try the audio!

  2. Jen, you always make me in the mood to listen to more and more audiobooks. But I can't for this one, since I'll be doing a read-along in about a month's time.

    Interesting that you should mention the book deals with addiction and alcoholism, because I had no idea. The synopsis doesn't give much away in that direction, though I can already see how those topics would evolve from Sutter not understanding the consequences of his actions and him being so unbelievably charismatic.

    I'm a bit afraid that I'm not going to like Sutter if he treats Aimee poorly, even with knowing that it's a part of his growth - to eventually understand the consequences. I do like the sound of the setting though and that you found it to be quite accurate.

  3. Okay, adding this one to my "I really hope my library has it" audiobook list! I am so happy that you think they picked the perfect narrator for the job. I'm trying to fight the whole "no guy as an MC" agenda that I have so this might be perfect :) Sigh. I'm a bit nervous for the ending, but I think I'll just have to tell myself that it's for the best. Love the review!


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