Review: ‘Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You’

Although I read a few things over the summer, ‘Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You’ by Peter Cameron was the book I connected with most.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts.

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I think it’s fair to say that whether or not a reader enjoys this is contingent upon whether or not they ‘get’ main character, James. I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did; I didn’t think I would relate to prickly James, or invest in his journey. But here we are.

James is actually kind of charming, in a funny, anti-hero sort of way. His social dysfunctions render him unable to connect with people. On a surface glance, James seems conceited, particularly when he’s firing gamma rays of condesension at those he deems ‘beneath him’. But, as we learn through his therapy sessions and interactions with others, his behaviours run much deeper than this.

‘Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You’ is like a spiritual successor to ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. The voices — while generations apart — are similar, the location (New York) is the same, and there a few aesthetic similarities, too. I’m wary of such comparisons; I feel many ‘coming of age’ stories (especially in the YA market) get thoughtlessly linked to ‘Catcher’ because of some superficial resemblances. ‘Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You’ is theclosest comparison to Salinger’s classic that I’ve come across. This is not to say that it’s in any way derivative — it’s not; James’ journey is unequivocally his own. More, ‘Someday’ works as a contemporary re-imagining because it honours and acknowledges — on a deep and thoughtful level — what made ‘Catcher’ so special in the first place.

Genre readers beware: ‘Someday’ ambles about at its own pace; for a book sort-of, kind-of marketed as YA, it’s astounding how little regard it shows for plot or external conflict. In a sense, this book is a drawn-out character study. Even the blurb is misleading: it teases a plot point (one about James’ attraction to a co-worker), but this development is minor, a footnote; it doesn’t even transpire until more than halfway in.

Not to labour my point, but this is another way in which ‘Someday’ is similar to ‘Catcher’: neither concerns itself with action or artificial tension; nor do they stoop to implausibly tidy endings. (As an aside, I was very satisfied with the ending. James begins to work through some of his issues, but he does not magically become well-adjusted, or get everything he wanted.)

The last thing I’ll mention is the comedy. James’ intellectual tirades can, at times, come off a bit heavy-handed (which is a legitimate criticism; I could see others growing frustrated with James’ oft-negative attitude, even if it is a necessity), so it was wise of Peter Cameron to accentuate the wit and lighter moments of the story. Shenanigans with James’ sister, mother and latest step father are examples of this. James himself is rife with witty observations; it’s a wonder he doesn’t fit in better because of this (but then, even he’s aware his humour’s too cerebral for the cretins). None of this farcical stuff is out of place or overdone; rather, it grants light and shade to an otherwise sober read.

I would recommend this to patient, openminded readers, or to anyone with even a passing interest in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. I found it very rewarding.

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