Review: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

We readers do what we do because sometimes, we are lucky enough to stumble upon a book that speaks to us, and the experience might be painful and disconcerting, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It’s us, reflected back to ourselves, laid bare for the world to see, to judge, to criticize.

Cameron’s book moved me. It’s not a happy book. It’s not a book about a profoundly sad person, either, though James’s own admissions would have us think so from time to time. It is, however, a book about apathy, the raw kind that can only be experienced in that awful stage between adolescence and adulthood.

For many, Someday will be a frustrating book. Many will dislike it. It’s been compared to a modern-day The Catcher in the Rye. Many will dislike it even more for this reason. Yet James was so familiar to me, bore such an imprint of my own teenage self, that I could forgive the book its deliberate decision to sustain its vague mien until the very end. Thinking back on my teenage self isn’t a particularly pleasant experience; the fact that I know well which aspects of my character haven’t really changed that much in the intervening years makes such reflection

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

even more uncomfortable. While I didn’t warm to James from the first page, it didn’t take me long to discover myself in him. Granted, he represents a hyperbolic sense of how I used to be as a teenager- unlike James, I did attempt to socialize, however awkwardly at time- yet his particular brand of aggrandized discontent was strikingly familiar to me.

It’s easy to look back on our former selves and laugh at the arrogant folly of our thoughts and actions, but it wasn’t too long ago that I lived those tumultuous teenage years when everything up seems down and all of the answers everyone is furiously asking you for seem forever outside your grasp. James recognizes the seeming futility that we all despair of during the transition from high school to what lies beyond; the difference between James and the rest of the teenage population is that his glass-half-empty demeanor means that those around him are quite aware of his despair. I believe that, sometimes, it’s difficult for glass-half-full people to grasp how we on the other side can dare to be so unbearable at times. Struggling through James’s narrative, traveling back and forth between the months as he haltingly tells of his foibles, his episodes of panic, the alternating inanity and beauty that can be found in life, I felt that Cameron came as close to explaining the harsh insistence of negativity as anyone can.

Perhaps it’s because I relate to James, because I understand that negativity does not mean depression, that I found him to be such a sympathetic narrator. Despite his repeated assertions that he is unhappy, I don’t believe it’s the type of unhappiness that many people will assume it to be, a type of black or white dichotomy of feeling. Sometimes, at that age, it feels as if there’s no option but to be unhappy; the paths are all set out for you, and there’s really no question of enjoying yourself as you go along, but happiness can exist alongside the unhappiness. All this is an incredibly long-winded and probably inarticulate attempt to explain that I connected with James and his story as many probably will not. I was not and am not an unhappy person, and I don’t feel that James truly is either; whether Cameron meant for him to be is another matter, and one I’m not really concerned with.

There are few books that could make me ramble at such length with such insubstantial result, so I’ll stop myself there. If you enjoy heady characters who like to toy with language and examine their own lives at length, this book  might be for you.


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