On finishing The Spectacular Now I feel hollowed out and slightly sick – not because the ending was bad but because as much as I didn’t want it to, it ended in probably the most realistic way it could. Part of me wants to gouge whatever scraps of hope I can from the close of Sutter’s story, hold onto the hints that things can and will eventually change, because not doing that hurts so much. I want to pretend that last chapter doesn’t exist, but in way, it’s that last chapter that makes this book what it is. It’s that ending that makes me acknowledge what I don’t want to see; this is the real world and sometimes things are devastating and not everyone gets a happy ending. There’s no emotional montage, there’s no countdown to the big romantic climax – there’s some tie off, but the ends are left bloody and uncauterised. That, I believe, is what prevents this from being another “issues” book, another dire warning on how bad choices can screw up a life. I think this book trusts the reader to drawn their own conclusions. And because of that, I think it’s a more realistic portrayal of addiction – it’s not a black and white story. We see the patterns of desctruction and the harm Sutter causes to himself and those around him, but we also see the charisma, the charm and the highs that perpetuate the cycle. It’s sympathy and abhorrence all wound up in a complicated tangle of being able to relate and yet being a helpless oberserver as events escalate toward the conclusion. I can’t state enough how the relationship between Sutter and Aimee tore at me. Tharp wrote this part of the story so powerfully; I felt anxious and helpless as I read, knowing where it was going and wanting to close my eyes to it, yet knowing there was no other way it could go. There were so many scenes in between them – Aimee’s vulnerability and complete lack of guile, Sutter telling her to shut up, Aimee’s confession of what happened to her when she was 14, Sutter’s eventual cognizance of what he will do to her - just tore me up inside. I absolutely believed these two people, and how they interacted. Sutter’s actions - whether selfish, compassionate or simply misguided -felt authentic. That he would carry out his final decision in the manner he chose too was awful but ultimately understandable – I believed that he would do that and that he would feel it was the best way he could do it. Tharp’s subtley in portraying Sutter’s downslide was handled well. He keeps us firmly in Sutter’s point of view, but allows us glimpses of the altering perspectives around him, the way others begin to perceive his behaviour. These voices, on the fringes of Sutter’s awareness, balance out his wilful blindness. We’re made aware of his own downward trajectory by the changes in the people who surround him, or who used to surround him. Tharp manages to convey the seriousness of what’s going on without slipping out of Sutter’s voice, and without beating the reader over the head with heavy messaging. The weakest part of this story for me was the plotline with Sutter’s father. I feel like this was truncated in order to fit within the confines of the novel, and not strictly realistic in terms of how quickly and fully Sutter’s moment of realisation hit. It’s a minor quibble though, it’s not the circumstances I don’t buy, but rather now they are neatly shoehorned into the climax of the book. If I put aside my hurt, raw feelings about the ending of this book – I can be objective and realise that it’s brilliant. Sutter is an accessible and compelling narrator – even while being appalled at his actions it’s easy to remain engaged by him, taken in by his easy charm. It’s the kind of writing that sinks its hooks in without realising that it’s happening. You get caught up in the rhythm of Sutter’s voice and the warp of his perspective. So much so that even while I suspected all along this book and I were not going to ride off into a sunset of happiness, I still felt sucker punched at the end. So perhaps the most powerful thing about this book is not just it’s unapologetic honesty, but that when it delivers it’s final blow, it’s not the one you’re expecting. But it’s the one that’s the most real. So it hurts the worst. * * * * * Oh shit, that ending. I feel like someone has dug out my insides with a blunt spoon.