Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You: A Novel

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You: A Novel

by Peter Cameron

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312428167
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 117,546
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.54(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

PETER CAMERON is the author of several novels, including Andorra and The Weekend. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

From Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
We sat for a moment in silence, and then the waiter delivered our meals. My father glanced at my plate of pasta, but said nothing. He cut into his nearly raw beef and smiled at the blood it drooled. “So,” he said, after he had taken a bite, “you’re not going to tell me.”
“Not going to tell you what?”
“Whether or not you’re gay.”
“No,” I said. “Why should I? Did you tell your parents?”
“I wasn’t gay,” said my father. “I was straight.”
“So, what, if you’re gay you have a moral obligation to inform your parents and if you’re straight you don’t?”
“James, I’m just trying to be helpful. I’m just trying to be a good father. You don’t have to get hostile. I just thought you might be gay, and if you were, I wanted to let you know that’s fine, and help you in whatever way I could.”
“Why might you think I was gay?”
“I don’t know. You just seem – well, let’s put it this way: you don’t seem interested in girls. You’re eighteen, and as far as I know you’ve never been on a date.”
I said nothing.
“Am I wrong? Or is that true?”
“Just because I’ve never been on a date doesn’t mean I’m gay. And besides, no one goes on dates anymore.”
“Well, whatever – normal kids hang out. They go out.”

Table of Contents


Title Page,
1 - Thursday, July 24, 2003,
2 - Friday, July 25, 2003,
3 - April 2003,
4 - Friday, July 25, 2003,
5 - May 2003,
6 - Saturday, July 26, 2003,
7 - May 2003,
8 - June 2003,
9 - April 2003,
10 - June 2003,
11 - Monday, July 28, 2003,
12 - Monday, July 28, 2003,
13 - Tuesday, July 29, 2003,
14 - Tuesday, July 29, 2003,
15 - Tuesday, July 29, 2003,
16 - Wednesday, July 30, 2003,
17 - October 2003,
Copyright Page,

Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You.

About the Book

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.

In the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Booklist has hailed Cameron as "one of the best writers about middle-class youth since Salinger"), Peter Cameron paints an indelible portrait of a teenage hero holding out for a better grownup world.

About the Author

Peter Cameron's fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Grand Street. He is the author of the adult novels The City of Your Final Destination, Andorra, and The Weekend. Cameron has also taught courses at Columbia University, Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oberlin College. He lives in New York City.

1. Reflect on the opening quotations. Do they set a tone for the book? How does the Denton Welch quotation expand upon the one from Ovid?

2. James believes adults have the ability to deceive themselves (p. 4). Does James include himself among adults? Why or why not? Does he deceive himself? Is James a reliable narrator?

3. When James is relating emotionally charged scenes, he often digresses or makes observations that seem to be only loosely connected to the subject at hand. What purpose do these digressions/observations serve? What do they reveal about James? What pathos to they add to the scenes? Consider the scene on page 7: James's mother has come home from her honeymoon early and alone, demanding a glass of water. As James watches her drink, he's reminded that birds with their heads tilted back, beaks open, will drown in a rainstorm. Find and discuss other examples.

4. James is always looking at houses on-line. What do you think he is seeking?

5. Why doesn't James want to go to college? How does the "horrible experience" (p. 39) in Washington, D.C. affect his decision? Why does it take so long for James to describe this experience? What is it about Nareem's invitation that propels him to run (pp. 116–117)?

6. Search online for images of the Thomas Cole paintings described on pages 129–131. Discuss James's reaction to them.

7. James likes his coworker, John Webster, very much. Why, then, does James post a false profile on Gent4Gent to entice John? John is hurt and angry and confronts James. How does this episode help James define the man he wants to become?

8. James indicates that one of his favorite people is his grandmother Nanette. Why? Examine his description of her and her house. Is his perception of Nanette influencing his dream of a home in Kansas? What realization about college does James have while sitting in her kitchen?

Customer Reviews

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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 72 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Capfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Here's a quick story about how one comes across a new author. Several months ago, I was trying to track down some gay YA books, and I ran across this book. Somehow, despite my intentions, the description of this book as really only qualifying as a YA novel because its protagonist is a teenager got my attention. Despite the fact that I started the search looking specifically for YA stuff, I ended up with this book on the strength of those reviews that it wasn't really meant for that audience. Curious, right? I think, though, that the book works both ways, and could probably be appreciated by anyone from their teens right on up.So yes, we do have our teenaged protagonist, James Sveck, a high-schooler getting ready to apply for university, but feeling ambivalent about the prospect. He lives in New York, some number of years after September 11, but finds himself intrigued by breaking out of the regular molds, and perhaps just going and buying up a house in the Midwest, cheap and easy, and live out there. The story, then, follows him finding himself and where he wants to go in his life.That's all easy to say, but the cast of characters here is really winning, even beyond James. The book is slim, and you get the story from James's point of view, but you still get a good sense of the reality of the other people in his world: his older sister, at university already and dating an affable professor; his divorcee mother, an art gallery owner who is getting married to her new beau; his father, the sort of executive that thinks ordering steak is definitely the manly thing to do; John Webster, the black gay gallery manager that helps run his mother's gallery. They all feel real, and motivated by their own desires and thoughts, even through James's filter, which is pretty remarkable for the space.But the stars of this piece are James, a really fully realized, conflicted teenager, and the dialogue. Oh my, the dialogue. I love it to bits. The book flies by quickly, because you just get lost in the talking. James in particular is that kind of sharp, smart, vulnerable teenager who pokes holes in things with his words, and Cameron nails it.I wanted to hold off saying it until I checked my list, and I have read a good number of good books this year, but I think this was probably my favorite. Not necessarily the best, but my favorite. I would recommend it most highly.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It¿s summertime and James Sveck is all set to go to Brown in the fall. The only problem is that James doesn¿t want to go to college. He doesn¿t like college students. In fact, he really doesn¿t like much of anyone.His family isn¿t much help. His father consents to eating a token lunch with him now and then, but they haven¿t much to talk about. His mother has returned abruptly, prematurely, from her honeymoon, distraught, talking of divorce. His sister is acrimonious toward him and spends her time engaging in an affair with a married man.James finds little in the world to love. He disparages the dog park; his job at this mother¿s art gallery; the sole artist who exhibits at the gallery, a man who creates garbage can art; the seminar on American government he was chosen to participate in, which ended in fiasco; his co-worker; even his therapist. James seems horribly ill-at-ease in the world.The story is just a charmingly told harangue of life by a brilliant teenage misfit who continues to bumble through life, angering and alienating everyone he meets. Only his grandmother knows what to say to him, sharing her wisdom with him, a wisdom that seems to help him move on, to keep stumbling through the pain of life.The problems James faces are not resolved by the end of the book, but James has acquired a perspective that this too shall pass. Somehow James manages to go away to college. Hope is seen when James keeps the houseful of possessions his grandmother leaves to him, not sure what he might need in the future.
kristenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this in one sitting. I don't usually read YA but it was getting good crossover reviews too. I liked his voice. It was clever and polished, but in that way that things you write in your own head on the way home are. In the way they never are once you actually write them down and you wonder what happened. I could relate to his social awkwardness too, except that I was that way at 12, not at 18. There were a few bits that made me wish for post-its, to make note of the neat wording (but it was cold and I was snuggled in bed) and a few bits that made me chuckle. I have a 15 year old cousin; maybe I'll send her a copy and get that perspective.
solicitouslibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Firstly, I read this book in one evening. Which should not suggest that it's facile, but rather that it's engaging. This book was a pleasure to read! There's more I could and should say, but I won't. This book is for people who are interested in the interior.
callmecayce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cameron's book is truly a fantastic book. Not only is the story well done, but the writing is brilliant. Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You is the story of James, an 18 year old boy trying to figure out, well, life. He's not sure he wants to go to college, he's not really sure about much of anything, except that he wants to be alone and he hates people his own age. Cameron handles everything perfectly -- the several time married mother, the distant and yet controlling father, the implied crush on the older coworker, and the love that James is seeking without really knowing it. I say perfectly because he manages to capture how our lives (the lives of the family, of teenagers, of college students, of everyone) are not perfect at all. James' view is one that anyone can relate too, not just teens. This isn't just because he's such a universal character in many ways, it's also because Cameron proves to be a sublime writer. James is smarter than many people (perhaps smarter than we are) and while in many books (YA or otherwise) this would be a turn off, it's the opposite. James doesn't lord it over his readers, just the people he encounters. And often, it's not even on purpose. While this book isn't about me, reading it I felt it had been written for me. It's an incredibly emotional (and emotionally driven) story about what it's like to grow up when you're already halfway there.
msimelda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for the interesting title. I didn't think I liked the book at first. By the end I didn't want to leave the 18 year old main character, James. Throughout the book we peer in to James' messy, confused and angst ridden life. Why doesn't someone just step in and help him? Of course, no one can really help a teenager get through this time in life. It's part of becoming the adult of your future.
59Square on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a funny, witty, painful book about growing up and becoming an adult, and how those things aren't always what they are cracked up to be. James is spending the summer before his freshman year of college at Brown deciding not to go to college because he doesn't like people his age, among other things. His divorced, wealthy parents give him little guidance other than what serves themselves. He works at his mother's art gallery which rarely has any customers, giving him way too much time to navelgaze. This book has a lot of interesting characters and thoughtful observations. Unfortunately, its cerebral humor and plot are not going to appeal to the majority of teen readers. James is gay, but spends a lot of time in the book ducking the question, which might either reassure or alienate gay readers.
4sarad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what to think of this book. The main character was funny at times and certainly interesting. He reminded me a great deal of my husband. The book however didn't seem to have a plot. It's more of a really long character sketch than a novel. Parts got very boring and tedious; especially the meetings with the psychiatrist. I don't think I'd recommend this book.
stonelaura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eighteen year-old James is a brilliant and troubled young man who thinks an escape to a mid-century house in middle-America will cure his ennui and discontented feelings about life in general. He is an obsessive linguist who beautifully sums up to his therapist his word usage compulsion and his false representation to a friend in an online posting in this way: "They're both about the correct or proper way to do something. there is a correct and proper way to use words and there is a correct and proper way to behave with other people. And I behaved improperly with John and feel bad, so I compensate by obsessing with language, which is easier to control than behavior." There are so many, many sentences and paragraphs in this beautiful, melancholy book, and such amazing word play between all the characters - between James, his therapist, his mother and sister, and even with his prescient and compassionate grandmother, Like Holden Caulfield, James is wandering through the perilous landscape of adolescence, hampered by his examination of the human psyche and his lack of emotional padding. but as he makes his way through this sizzling summer week in Manhattan, he, with the abstract help of his quirky family, comes to realize that life will never be simple, or explained in simple terms but we march along nonetheless, doing the best we can. This book would only be of interest to the most literate of YA readers because there's very little action. It is mostly James' examination of self and life.
vampireeat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book caught me eye during a YALSA program during the ALA Midwinter 2008 in Philadelphia. Mainly because the cover and description were somewhat vague as to the struggles of the main character. Wondering if maybe it was a young adult GLBT title (which I've never really read before) I was intrigued. The title did not disappoint. Other than having somewhat crappy names for the characters (I'm speaking of the sister's Professor boyfriend, who really shouldn't have been in the book at all), I really liked this book. It takes place in New York, and makes the probably mandatory 9/11 reference that all books being written at the time have to. Honestly, that doesn't go so much with the story. It's been compared to 'Catcher in the Rye.' James isn't Holden; he's way gayer, and that made it entertaining to read. When he talked about being on the bus and feeling so alone... I was that kid. This book is a good read for those of all ages, but obviously it's intended audience... GLBT young adults, are going to identify with something within these pages.
mgaulding on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed many of this author's books but this was simply his best. This character, along with his grandmother, are so adorable and so appealing (despite Jame's embarrassing faux pas). Don't miss this book.
mzonderm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not like Catcher in the Rye. Not the first time I read it (in high school) and not the second time (in my 20s). And this book is little more than Catcher in the Rye updated for the 21st century. Except they still use words like "faggy".James, which at least is a better name than Holden, has not been kicked out of school, but has just graduated from high school and is considering not going to college, although he's scheduled to begin at Brown in the fall. Aside from a somewhat meaningless job, he spends his time being introspective and disaffected, and seems determined to remain so. He does strange, antisocial things for no apparent reason and with no apparent thought of the consequences and then not quite understanding why people are upset about what he did.I can't quite put my finger on why I has a problem with this book, or why I don't like Catcher in the Rye. I guess characters who know they're acting in an asocial way and refuse to acknowledge why other people might think they're a little strange just bother me. It's fine to be asocial, but a character (at least an intelligent character, as both James and Holden are supposed to be), ought to have enough insight to understand that they're outside the norm, which is going to be troubling to some people.
dfullmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really liked this book. Teenage male protagonist struggling with life in Manhattan.
mjspear on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A gripping look at a disaffected boy in his pre-college summer in New York. NYC references and arch, arty environment (James works in his mother's gallery) may put some readers off. Those who perservere will be rewarded with a funny, poignant look at a young man overcoming depression to reach out. Nice bonus: a warmly realized relationship with his grandmother.
MrsHillReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
He's smart, witty, gay & unable to connect with the world. James's family is SO dysfunctional...almost a stereotype. James is hard to figure out and in the long run, I didn't care about him very much. The adult in me just wanted to tell him to "grow up".
iwriteinbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When eighteen year old James Sveck announces that he will most likely be forgoing his upcoming entrance to Brown University to instead pursue a piece of land not yet purchased in the Midwest, his well heeled New York City family protests. His flighty, thrice married, thrice divorced mother is only interested to the point of insisting that he subscribe to the services of the family shrink. His Partner¿s Club dinning father, voices repeatedly that he will be throwing his life away by shirking his academic responsibility. His older sister, halfway through Barnard and dating a married man, lectures him on his stupidity. His therapist, recommended by his mother, simply parrots the wishes of his family. His only solace is found in his feisty grandmother and an older coworker at his mother¿s gallery.Peter Cameron¿s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is an elegantly crafted tribute to the ever-growing stack of quarter-life crisis accounts in American literature. While the theme is not new (the book has received some serious flack for drawing on the likes of Catcher In the Rye), it is far from a mundane, rehashed storyline. Written from a teen view but not necessarily the voice of teen aged America (in fact, James will tell you that his position is exactly the opposite) the book superbly articulates the fluidity and uncertainty affixed to coming of age.I found myself cringing when I read other reviewers¿ descriptions of James¿s deep queries as ¿too adult¿. I find that young adults are often far more elegant in their searching than we give them credit for, perhaps because of, not in spite of, their youth. As we age, much like the secondary adults in Cameron¿s tale, we lose the ability to question, to act out, to rise above or sidestep authority.While it is billed as a young adult novel, the story touches on points that are relevant throughout life making it accessible and agreeable to a wide reading audience. If more young adult literature followed Cameron¿s lead, I think I would find myself a bigger fan of the genre. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You may be small in size but its impact is nothing less than powerful and is one that should, without a doubt, make its way to your summer reading pile.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James lives in New York City. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his mother and older sister. His only friends are his grandmother and the man who runs his mother's art gallery. His dysfunctinal family and uncertainty about the future combine with his loneliness to cause problems.
presto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Sveck, eighteen years old, lives in New York City. He lives with his several times divorced mother and his older sister , he sees his father every Friday for lunch, but of choice enjoys visiting his one time actress grandmother. He is bright, articulate, a thinker, and a loner; he finds peers insufferable and prefers the company of is elders, and maybe he has a crush on John, the manager of his mother's art gallery.James story covers the period leading up to his possible entry into college, something he decides he does not want to do, he would prefer his father spent the money on a down payment on the old and remote house of his dreams. It is an affecting and captivating story told by an interesting and endearing young man; and for anyone who is happy in their own company a story that will strike more than a few chords.
infinitechoice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Super-smart James tangles with his misfit status during and after his senior year in New York City. His razor-sharp observations are witty and often deadly accurate, yet James often uses his keen verbal ability to alienate other people.I have a soft spot for gifted, troubled narrators, and find a place for James among Holden and his peers.
Alirambles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Seems you can't pick up a book with a male first-person narrator between the ages of 16 and 20 without reading on the back cover, "The next Holden Caulfield!!!!" or "JD Salinger for the 21st century!!" It's a pet peeve of mine.But, James Sveck? Really reminded me of Holden Caulfield. In fact, some of the things that made JD Salinger's protagonist hard to relate to are true of James as well. He's not a people person, and he does things that don't make sense to anyone but him. I suspect this is why some people didn't like this book, but I found James likeable and somehow more hopeful, even in his depression and isolation.