jo's Reviews > Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
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's review
Dec 02, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: queer, kids, psychic-pain, 9-11, books-i-teach
Recommended for: all my peeps on GR
Read in December, 2009

such a lovely book, and such a quirky and interesting look at the pain of adolescence, which is the same as the pain of being human except less covered by layers of fake adaptation (as the book itself points out at some point). james, the protagonist narrator, is barely more adjusted to living in the-world-as-is than christopher of the curious incident of the dog in the night-time , but the novel deftly and lovingly avoids pathologizing his difference. in fact, the only thing we know for sure about james is that he's really, really unhappy. his unhappiness is so deep, he can't be bothered to articulate it. he can think about it, but talking, well that's another matter altogether. for one, words betray the purity of thoughts -- a delightful recognition on cameron's part of a very adolescent way of finding that one's (new) emotions dwarf one's linguistic endowment. for two, thinking and speaking are two very different processes that happen at very different times and require very different skills. for three, talking is just so damn exhausting.

cameron captures beautifully the hopeless sense of uniqueness ("there's no one in the world like me") of the teenager who has had limited exposure to the comforting similarity of other strange and unique people.

there are no explanations of and no investigations into the roots of james' pain, yet the character seems so alive, and with such a rich past, it's as if the writer had it all figured out but felt like keeping it from us, out of consideration for his character.

the novel pivots around two main set pieces that are aching and beautiful. one is pure despair, the other is pure desire. in the latter, james is so little in touch with the good things in him that his desire is invisible even to himself. he sublimates it in net searches for a perfect house in the midwest, away from the wonderful dreariness of the city, a place to which you can belong so profoundly, it makes you feel like you don't belong anywhere else -- not even inside yourself.

some painful scenes in a therapist's office. like many fictional and not fictional therapists, the woman believes in the sly bullying of her patients. james, though, seems to be able to thaw even this most determinedly entrenched mental health professional into being human. good on him.
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Inaara Really good review. You pretty much summed up everything I couldn't say in words :)

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