Meet James Sveck. An awkward, sarcastic, “theoretically and potentially gay” adolescent “misfit” male stuck on a miserable journey to adulthood filled with insecurity and confusion. Through his first person narration, James takes us through Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. What is it that makes James Sveck so interesting? What is typical to a first person narration is that story unfolds through the biased eyes of the narrator. However, James remains ambiguous, as his character develops through his interactions and conversations with the other characters in the book. Based on these exchanges, it is the reader’s job to piece together different characterizations of James and attempt to complete the puzzle of his overall character development, with the help of the small clues given by James as well. This structural decision made by author Peter Cameron is certainly one that makes this first person narration unique and mysterious. The reader is running through a never-ending maze, attempting to make sense of James’ behavior and sorting through different reactions to his persona to ultimately discover James’ identity.
There are disadvantages along with advantages to this uniquely structured narration. For example, confirming James’ sexuality is a tumultuous journey for the reader. Earlier in the novel, James and his father are sitting at a restaurant and his father questions, “’Are you gay’?” Avoiding the question entirely, James responds with one of his typical sarcastic statements of, “’Why? Do you get to take an extra deduction on your taxes or something?’” Through this dialogue, the answer to this question is deferred and, in fact, the reader only discovers James’ sexuality in the ending chapters of the novel. Overall, James has very few moments of self reflection and this requires the reader to be constantly making inferences from dialogue episodes like this and ultimately hope to receive some confirmation of their interpretations at unexpected moments throughout the novel. Frustrating and unsettling, while also enticing and stimulating, this technique by Peter Cameron makes James Sveck a real mystery to be solved.