The Blurry, Incomplete James Sveck

A book review of Peter Cameron’s “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You”

What precisely were you doing during July 24–30, 2003? Not quite sure? Maybe just a vague picture? Yeah, same. But all we need is six days (with some occasional flashbacks) to get a clear picture of a blurry young man, struggling to understand his place in the world. Our fictional protagonist, James Sveck, is cynical, introverted, sensitive, and struggles with many aspects of his life. After what appears to be a miserable four years, James has just graduated high school is anticipating an equally unexciting and horrible experience at Brown University, where he is set to begin school in August. James insulates himself from many aspects of the world by focusing on his true love: written, unspoken words. If James sounds like a “loser” so far, it’s because he is by any typical high school characterization. And yet, I found myself fascinated with his story and perspective on the world.

If we’re going to understand James, we have to explore his relationships with the people around him. He’s a questioner, constantly raising contention with almost everyone in his life: his divorced parents, odd yet centered sister, dedicated therapist, coworker, other high school students, and, in a bizarre story in Washington DC, the police. Rotating through frustrating conversations, negative interactions, and scary incidents, James succeeds in alienating everyone around him. Everyone that is, except for his loving grandmother. James’s grandmother, who lives just outside of New York City, is the one person who seems to understand him and his interactions with other people and the world. When James needs any kind of validation in his life, his grandmother is readily available to give love and support.

Throughout this narrative, I found myself considering my own perspectives on any number of things. From relationships to education, traumatic experiences to where I want to live, viewing the world from James’s perspective made me consider my own more closely than before. I realized that seeing someone else examine everything about their life, even a fictional character, pushed me to do the same and realize the importance of balance, achievement, and being connected in my life. When you really pause to think about it, what are the values important to your own life?

While everyone can relate to this story, this exploration of James Sveck’s world is not for everyone to enjoy. It’s a winding, thought-provoking six-day journey into the mind of an 18-year old going through some of life’s toughest obstacles. I so appreciate this book because, even after diving deep into his life, I emerged with a still blurry picture of James Sveck. His character is still incomplete in my head.

Then I remembered…that we’re all a little incomplete in our lives.