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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron (2007)

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

In the 2007 YA novel Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, the story only once explicitly deals with internal sexuality confrontation. 18-year-old New Yorker James Sveck is asked by his father if he is gay early on in the story, but even though the story is told in first-person, the reader is not told whether this is the case until very late in the story. While the story does involve a “coming out,” this is largely a process that happens in James’ conscience, and while he does reveal to the readers that he is gay, those words are never uttered to his parents. This is a case of revelation without verbal expression.

James’ father, a high-strung, fastidious lawyer, confronts him about his sexuality in a way that is somewhat supportive, but more significantly stemming from the urge to be constructive and move forward. “It’s just that we’ve never talked about your sexuality, and if you are gay I want to be properly supportive. It’s fine with me if you’re gay, I just want to know,” (Cameron, 2007, p. 31) he emphatically states. However, as James resists his father’s inquiry with unrelated banter, his father’s compassion becomes more pronounced.

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. (p. 32)

As James becomes unconsciously curious about his mother’s gay art gallery business assistant, John, he is compelled to go through his web history while working at the gallery. He stumbles on John’s relationship-seeking profile and writes him a fake ad according to what John’s perfect date would be. As this plan backfires, James’ mother is put in a tight spot when John is upset and initially wants to claim sexual harassment in the workplace. This forces James’ mother to deal with his sexuality, which has previously been avoided. We never know the full extent of her thoughts on his sexuality, but it can be presumed that as she has hired a gay assistant as her right-hand man, she has at least tacit tolerance. James largely dodges her question as to whether he is gay by asking her if she thinks “homosexuals need help.” She returns with a remark that implies support, though she is confounded, “James. Oh James! I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help you, and I want to help you, but I don’t know how” (p. 192).

While James’ mother cannot draw a verbal response from him that answers her question and satisfies her need to be helpful – a gesture of support – her delivery does help James. It is in his narration immediately thereafter that he reveals “I knew I was gay, but I had never done anything gay and I didn’t know if I ever world” (p. 192). Thus, there is a major hurdle jumped in that he is able to figure out what his desires and identity is to an extent, as a result of her confrontation.

Judging from these two scenes in the novel, readers can elicit that this is one case of support from both parents. One must consider that this is a work from the twenty-first century and set in New York, so the reactions may be skewed toward more tolerance than may be evidenced in previous works, or those set in more remote locations. This work is interesting in that it is mutually, universally understood that James is gay, and his posting to John confirms it, but it is never directly said, offering an interesting coming out and parental reaction scenario.

Cameron, P. (2007). Someday this pain will be useful to you. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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