The New York Times
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You: A Novelby Peter Cameron
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around/i>… See more details below
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the story of James Sveck, a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it. James is eighteen, the child of divorced parents living in Manhattan. Articulate, sensitive, and cynical, he rejects all of the assumptions that govern the adult world around him–including the expectation that he will go to college in the fall. He would prefer to move to an old house in a small town somewhere in the Midwest. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You takes place over a few broiling days in the summer of 2003 as James confides in his sympathetic grandmother, stymies his canny therapist, deplores his pretentious sister, and devises a fake online identity in order to pursue his crush on a much older coworker. Nothing turns out how he'd expected.
"Possibly one of the all-time great New York books, not to mention an archly comic gem" (Peter Gadol, LA Weekly), Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is the insightful, powerfully moving story of a young man questioning his times, his family, his world, and himself.
The New York Times
Gr 10 Up
Peter Cameron has crafted a sharp, biting tale (Farrar, 2007) that deservedly has been compared to J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye . The translation to audiobook format is just short of brilliant. Eighteen-year-old James Sveck lives with his upper-crust family in New York City and is ambivalent about many things: his Ivy League future at Brown, his sexual orientation, his dislike of kids his own age. The people in James' life include an artsy mother who came home from her honeymoon alone, a pretentious sister, his smart and funny grandmother, and his co-worker at his mother's art gallery. James meanders through the summer sharing his observations of the world around him. Alarmed at his insistence that he has no use for college, his parents force him into therapy. When James turns inward to examine his ambivalence, the story takes a serious turn. The divorce of his parents left scars and his high school was close to ground zero on September 11th. Narrator Lincoln Hoppe perfectly captures James' wit, sarcasm, pain. The ending is rather abrupt and we never fully understand James' motivations, but this won't be problematic for listeners. With strong language and mature themes, this is a story for older teens.-Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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- Age Range:
- 14 - 18 Years
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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
By Peter Cameron
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2007 Peter Cameron
All rights reserved.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
THE DAY MY SISTER, GILLIAN, DECIDED TO PRONOUNCE her name with a hard G was, coincidentally, the same day my mother returned, early and alone, from her honeymoon. Neither of these things surprised me. Gillian, who was between her third and fourth years at Barnard, was dating a "language theory" professor named Rainer Maria Schultz and had consequently become a bit of a linguistic zealot, often ranting about something called "pure" language, of which Gillian with a hard G was supposedly an example. My mother, on the other hand, had rather rashly decided to marry an odd man named Barry Rogers. Gillian — Gillian — and I had both suspected that this marriage (my mother's third) would not last very long, but we assumed it would survive its honeymoon, although when we heard they were planning a honeymoon in Las Vegas our skepticism grew. My mother, who has spent her entire life avoiding places like Las Vegas and merrily disdaining anyone who visited, or even contemplated visiting, such places, had announced, in a disturbing brainwashy way, that a honeymoon in Las Vegas would be "fun" and a nice change from her previous honeymoons (Italy with my father and the Galápagos Islands with her second husband). Whenever my mother said anything was, or would be, "fun" you could take it as a warning that said thing was not nor would be at all fun, and when I reminded my mother of this — I used the example of her telling me that the sailing camp she had forced me to attend the summer I was twelve would be "fun" — she admitted that sailing camp had not been fun for me but that was no reason why a honeymoon in Las Vegas would not be fun for her. Such is the ability adults — well, my mother, at least — have to deceive themselves.
Gillian and I were eating lunch, or some midday meal approximate to lunch, when my mother untimely returned from her honeymoon. It was about two o'clock in the afternoon. Gillian sat at the kitchen table doing the New York Times crossword, which we were not allowed to do when my mother was home because, as she often told us, it was the only dependable pleasure in her life. I was eating a fried egg sandwich. I was supposed to have been working at the art gallery which my mother owned but which was effectively run by a young man named John Webster, but John had sensibly decided that since my mother was safely out of town, preoccupied with whatever unthinkable activities preoccupy a fifty-three-year-old woman in Las Vegas on her third honeymoon, and since it was July, and no one had set foot in the gallery for several days, he would close the gallery and go and stay with friends in Amagansett, and I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of the week. I was not, of course, to tell my mother about this hiatus, for she believed that at any moment someone might walk in off the street and buy a garbage can decoupaged with pages torn out of varied editions of the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran (for $16,000). My mother opened the gallery about two years ago after she divorced her second husband, because she wanted to "do" something, which you might have thought meant work, but did not: "doing" something entailed buying a lot of new clothes (very expensive clothes that had been "deconstructed," which as far as I could tell meant some of the seams had been ripped out or zippers had been put where God did not intend zippers to go) because gallery directors had to look like gallery directors, and having lunches at very expensive restaurants with curators and corporate art consultants or, occasionally, an actual artist. My mother had had a fairly successful career editing art books until she married her second husband, and apparently once you stop working legitimately it is impossible to start again. "Oh, I could never go back to that work, it's so dreary and the last thing the world needs is another coffee table book," I had heard her say more than once. When I asked her if she thought the world needed an aluminum garbage can decoupaged with pages torn from the King James Bible she said, No, the world didn't need that, which was exactly what made it art. And then I said, Well, if the world doesn't need coffee table books then they must be art, too — what was the difference? My mother said the difference was the world thought it needed coffee table books, the world valued coffee table books, but the world didn't think it needed decoupaged garbage cans.
And so Gillian and I were sitting in the kitchen, she intent on the crossword and I enjoying my fried egg sandwich, when we heard the front door unlocking — or actually locking, for we had carelessly left it unlocked, so it was first locked and then unlocked — which took a moment during which my sister and I just looked at each other and said nothing, for we instinctually knew who was opening the door. My father has keys to our apartment, and it would have made sense — well, more sense — that it was he arriving, seeing as how my mother was supposed to be honeymooning in Las Vegas, but for some reason both Gillian and I knew immediately it was our mother. We heard her drag her rolling suitcase over the threshold (my mother does not travel lightly, especially on honeymoons) and then we heard it topple over, and then we heard her chucking the books and magazines and other debris that had accumulated on the couch in her absence to the floor, and then we heard her collapse on the couch, and say, rather quietly and poignantly, "Shit."
We sat there for a moment in stunned silence. It was almost as if we thought if we remained silent and undetected, she might reverse herself — get off the couch, replace the debris, right her suitcase, toddle it out the door, fly back to Las Vegas, and resume her honeymoon.
But of course that did not happen. After a moment we heard her get up and walk toward the kitchen.
"Oh good Lord," my mother said, when she entered the kitchen and saw us, "what are you two doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" asked Gillian.
My mother went to the sink and scowled disapprovingly at the dirty dishes and glasses. She opened the cupboard that housed glasses, but it was empty, for Gillian and I had been favoring the technique of rinsing and reusing glasses rather than washing, storing, and reusing. "My God," my mother said, "all I want is a drink of water. A simple drink of water! That is all I want. And that, like everything else I have ever wanted, appears to be denied me."
Gillian arose and found a fairly clean glass in the sink and rinsed it and then filled it with water from the tap. "Here," she said, and handed it to our mother.
"Bless you," my mother said. My mother is not a religious person and her use of this language disquieted me. Or further disquieted me, as her unexpected arrival had already achieved that effect.
"Whatever," Gillian said, and sat back down.
My mother stood at the sink, taking odd, birdlike sips from the glass of water. I thought about how I had once learned that birds cannot swallow and so must tip their heads back to ingest water, and how if in a rainstorm their beaks are left open and their heads tilted back they will drown, although why they would have their beaks open and heads thrown back during a rainstorm is a mystery to me. My mother finally finished drinking her water in this odd manner and then made what seemed to me to be a great show of rinsing out the glass and putting it in the dishwasher, which of course was not an easy thing to do as the dishwasher was already full of (dirty) dishes.
"What happened?" asked Gillian.
"Yes," said Gillian. "Why are you home? Where is Mr. Rogers?" Both my sister and I enjoyed calling our mother's new husband by his surname, even though we had been urged repeatedly to call him Barry.
"I neither know nor care to know where that man is," my mother said. "I hope that I never see Barry again in my life."
"Well, best to discover that now," said Gillian. "Although I suppose it would have been best to discover that before you married him. Or before you agreed to marry him. Or before you met him."
"Gillian!" my mother said. "Please."
"It's Gillian," said Gillian.
"What?" my mother asked.
"My name is Gillian," said Gillian. "My name has been mispronounced long enough. I have decided that from now on I will only answer to Gillian. Rainer Maria says naming a child and then mispronouncing that name is a subtle and insidious form of child abuse."
"Well, that's not my style. If I were going to abuse you, there'd be nothing subtle or insidious about it." My mother looked at me. "And you," she said, "why aren't you at the gallery?"
"John didn't need me today," I said.
"That is not the point," said my mother. "John never needs you. You do not go there because you are needed. You go there because I pay you to go there so you will have a summer job and learn the value of a dollar and know what responsibility is all about."
"I'll go tomorrow," I said.
My mother sat at the table. She took the half-finished crossword puzzle away from Gillian. "Please remove that plate," she said to me. "There is nothing more disgusting than a plate on which a fried egg sandwich has been eaten." My mother is very particular about what people around her eat. She cannot stand to watch anyone eat a banana, unless they peel the whole thing and break it into attractive bite-sized pieces.
I got up and rinsed the plate and put it in the dishwasher. I filled the dishwasher with detergent and started the cycle. This act was too transparently ingratiating for anyone to acknowledge, yet it seemed to have a softening effect upon my mother: she sighed and rested her head on her arms, which were crossed before her on the table.
"What happened?" asked Gillian.
My mother did not answer. I realized she was crying. Gillian stood up and moved behind her, reached down and embraced her, and held her while she sobbed.
I went down the hall into the living room and called John in Amagansett. A woman answered the phone. "Hello?" she said.
"Hello. Is John Webster there?"
"Who's calling?" the woman asked, in a hostile, challenging fashion intended no doubt to discourage telemarketers.
"This is Bryce Canyon," I said. I always refuse to give my real name when someone demands to know "Who's calling?" They should say "May I ask who's calling?" or "May I tell him who's calling?"
"He's not available at the moment, Mr. Canyon. Can I give him a message?"
"Yes," I said. "You may. Please tell Mr. Webster that Marjorie Dunfour has returned unexpectedly from her honeymoon and if Mr. Webster values his livelihood he should return to the city posthaste."
"Post what?" the woman asked.
"Haste," I said. "Posthaste. Without delay. Immediately."
"Perhaps you'd better talk to him yourself."
"I thought he was unavailable."
"He was," said the woman, "but he has appeared."
After a moment John said, "Hello."
"John, it's me," I said.
"James," he said. "What's up?"
"My mother is here," I said. "She just arrived. I thought you might like to know."
"Oh shit," he said. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure," I said, "but Mr. Rogers seems to be history."
"Oh, the poor thing," said John. "So soon. Well, I suppose it's all for the best, to figure it out sooner than later."
"That is what we told her," I said.
"All right," he said. "I'll take the jitney back tonight. You don't think she'll call the gallery this afternoon, do you? Or, God forbid, go in?"
"I doubt it. She seems preoccupied with her misfortune."
"You're so heartless, James. It's unnatural. I worry for you."
"I think you should worry about yourself. If she finds out you closed the gallery she might get a little heartless herself."
"I'm on my way," said John. "I'm packing my bags as we speak."
I thought that under the circumstances the best thing to do might be to get out of the house, so I took our dog, a black standard poodle named Miró, to the dog run in Washington Square. Miró, who seems to think he is human, doesn't really enjoy the dog run, but he will sit patiently on the bench beside me, observing the simple canine ways of the other dogs with amused condescension.
Right outside of our building is a tree well filled with impatiens and English ivy with two plaques attached to the little iron trellis around its base. One reads IN MEMORY OF HOWARD MORRIS SHULEVITZ, BLOCK PRESIDENT 1980–1993. HE LOVED THIS BLOCK. When I first saw this plaque, about six years ago when my parents divorced (my mother sold the apartment we lived in on West Seventy-ninth Street and we moved downtown; my father moved into an awful Trump building on the Upper East Side. He has one of those hideous apartments with huge curved windows you can't open and fake gold faucets and weird men in costumes in the elevator in case you don't know how to push a button), I misinterpreted it, thinking that the dates supplied were Howard Morris Shulevitz's dates of birth and death, and that he had been a little boy who had died some tragic early death and as a consequence had been given the posthumous honorific title of Block President. I had very tender feelings about the boy, who had died at approximately the age I was then, and felt in some way that I must be his successor, and so I vowed to love the block with Howard's ardency, and I even had fantasies about dying young myself — I thought about throwing myself out our living room window so that I would land on the sidewalk in front of the tree well. I would get my own plaque then, beside Howard's: JAMES DUNFOUR SVECK, SECOND BLOCK PRESIDENT, 1985–1997. HE LOVED THIS BLOCK TOO. I made the mistake of mentioning this little fantasy to my mother, who informed me that Howard Morris Shulevitz had probably been an old man, a petty tyrant who had nothing better to do than annoy his neighbors with building code violations. The second plaque on the trellis emphatically states CURB YOUR DOG. I don't remember exactly when this one was appended to the railing, but one can only imagine why it was necessary, and now seeing those adjacent plaques never fails to depress me, for even if Howard Morris Shulevitz was, as per my mother's imagining, an unpleasant person, did he really deserve to have his name, and memory, evoked beside a CURB YOUR DOG sign? I find this whole phenomenon of naming things after the deceased disconcerting. I don't like to sit on a bench that is a memorial to someone's life. It seems disrespectful. I think if you want to memorialize someone you should either erect a proper memorial, like the Lincoln Memorial, or leave well enough alone.
The dog run is this area of the park that is completely fenced, and once you pass through the two gates, which upon penalty of death must never be simultaneously opened, you can let your dog off the leash and let it frolic with its own kind. When I arrived at about four o'clock, it was fairly empty. The people who didn't have real jobs who frequented the dog run during the day had left, and the people who had real jobs hadn't yet arrived. This left a few dog walkers with a motley assortment of dogs, all of whom seemed not in the mood to frolic. Miró trotted to our favorite bench, which was, thankfully, by this time of the day in the shade, and jumped up onto it. I sat beside him, but he turned away and ignored me. In the privacy of our home, Miró is a very affectionate creature, but in public he behaves like a teenager who has no interest in a parent's affection. I assume he thinks that it interferes with his I-am-not-a-dog pose.
There is a sense of camaraderie in the dog run that I hate. This sort of smug friendliness dog owners share that they feel entitles them to interact. If I was sitting on a bench in the park proper, no one would approach me, but in the dog run it's as if you are on some distant weirdly friendly planet. "Oh, is that a standard poodle?" people will ask, or "Is it a he or a she?" or some other idiotic question. Fortunately the dog walkers, professionals that they are, only talk to one another, in the same way I have noticed that nannies and mothers never interact in the playground: each, like the dog walkers and dog owners, sticks to its kind. And so Miró and I were left alone. Miró watched the other dogs for a moment and then sighed and slowly lowered himself down upon the bench, pushing me a bit with his hind feet so that he would have adequate space to recline. But I refused to shift, so he was forced to hang his head over the end of the bench. He did this in a way that implied it was very difficult being a dog.
Excerpted from Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron. Copyright © 2007 Peter Cameron. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
PETER CAMERON is the author of several novels, including Andorra and The Weekend. He lives in New York City.
Peter Cameron is the author of Andorra (FSG, 1997), The City of Your Final Destination (FSG, 2002), and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (FSG, 2007). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Grand Street, and The Paris Review. He lives in New York City.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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James Svek doesn't really fit in. He isn't interested in the same things as other eighteen-year-old guys, doesn't even like people his age, and even keeps his family at a distance.
Nobody could blame James for being detached from his family. His father is a bit self-absorbed and seems to feel obligated to spend the little time he does with James. James' mother owns an art gallery and has just returned early from her honeymoon. Her third marriage has ended almost as quickly as it began. And James' older sister, Gillian, is enmeshed in her own life, and an affair with a married professor. Even the family dog seems to feel superior to James. The only family member James admires is his grandmother who is supportive and understanding, even if she is a bit eccentric herself. The only other person that James admires is John, who works with him at his mother's gallery.
James is a contemplative young man whose views on the world around him aren't always congruent with popular opinion. He sees the world with a mix of ironic humor and disdain. Although he isn't an "angry" teenager, James has distanced himself from the people and things that surround him.
Now James' life is getting complicated. He has been accepted to Brown University but he has decided that he doesn't want to go to college. He would rather buy an old house in the Midwest and live in obscurity. His parents have sent him to a shrink, one who annoyingly answers every question with a question. He has just ruined what friendship he had with John. And why are his parents now asking him if he's gay?
SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU is a smart, funny story about the pain that comes with growing up and becoming your own person. James is a highly likeable character whose views on the world and himself are refreshing and insightful.
This is a book that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads it.
I picked up this book becuase I had read the Catcher and the Rye and thought it was great. The main character, James is exactly like a modern day Holden Caufeild. He has the same, screw life everyones an ass additude. I enjoyed this novel and I think anyone who like The catcher and the Rye would too.
James is quite different then the usual withdrawn teen characters in many books, his elegant speech and reasoning will take you by suprise. I love how even though his sexuality comes up, it does not overshadow the main story which is that of a boy looking for his place in the world.
This book is a great one. Get it off the list of gay books, it is nothing that really has to do with that. The only reason it is on there to begin with is because the main character happens to be gay (not that it matters because we hear about this characteristic only a couple times). I think that James Sveck (the main character) is very interesting and inspiring. He has such a different way of looking at things, that makes this book interesting in itself. And although some things said are somewhat cliche, you get a good laugh as well as many more emotions out of this book. I finished it very quickly and it was well worth the read. Don't judge it by the cover or the name, its very unique and endearing.
I found this novel well written. The many anecdotes of the narrator's explanation of things made this novel flow smoothly without the common 'rush' as people may find in other novels. This book was very motivational and made me think a lot about things I've never even thought to think of before.
This is such an amazing touching book! Must readd!!
A novel that truly reached out and struck me.
Enjoyable. Great, relatable read.
This coming of age tale was a quick, witty read. The protagonist is both likable and relatable and truly reminded me of what it was like to be a young, confused gay teen struggling to deal with life choices without focusing on the aspect of sexuality. A great reminder that dealing with sexuality doesn't necessarily meaning focusing on it, but instead can be but a thread within the fiber of growing up. Recommended for a light and quick read that will surely make you smile and even laugh out loud from time to time. _Blakebury
I would recommend this book to anyone who is very analytical and mature. This could be for a 15 yr old to a 45 yr old. I enjoy this book and suggest that you read it.