Tharp is the author of such bestsellers as Falling Dark, Knights of the Hill Country and Badd. With the release of the film adaptation of his critically acclaimed novel The Spectacular Now, Tharp doesn’t consider himself a young-adult writer but hasn’t strayed too far from the genre.
“I became interested in writing about young adults from the response I received after writing Falling Dark. For the past four novels, I’ve been writing books that have teenage characters, but I think all the books could easily be for adults as well,” he said. “I write in a more literary style rather than fantasy or supernatural. I write novels I think I would have liked to read as a teen.”
The Spectacular Now is a high-school-love narrative in a sense, but this coming-of-age story is surprisingly poignant, dealing with hard-hitting issues like addiction, abandonment and being forced to grow up quickly. After the perpetually drunk Sutter Keely — token popular guy — passes out on fellow classmate Aimee Finecky’s lawn after a night of binge drinking, both Sutter and Aimee’s lives change as their seemingly opposite worlds collide.
Tharp believes the teen years largely determine what people are like when they reach adulthood.
“With The Spectacular Now, I really wanted to delve into that time in life when a person has to let go of the spontaneity of childhood and accept more responsibility, and start finding something they can commit to,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to have a realistic situation.”
With the movie adaptation — produced by Andrew Lauren (The Squid and the Whale) — Tharp wasn’t exactly quick to point out the differences between the film and the novel.
“When I saw the movie for the first time at Sundance (Film Festival), I really liked it, but it was hard not to compare it to the book,” Tharp said. “The second time I watched it, I dropped all those expectations and just started enjoying it as a film. My attitude going in was that these people — the producers, screenwriters and actors — are artists in their own right, and they need to have creativity because it would just be a bore trying to copy the book directly.”
Heartfelt performances of the novel’s two leading characters are given by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), who perfectly embodies Aimee’s mix of naivety and intelligence, and Miles Teller (Project X), who portrays the drunken, charismatic Sutter.
Tharp said he originally developed Sutter as “the person who tries to keep the celebration of life going. Postponing the growing-up process, Sutter is a rationalizing, impossibly upbeat kid even though his life is becoming unraveled.”
Considering the drug and alcohol usage in the story, it would have been easy to translate the film into a stereotypical high school flick. However, Lauren stays true to the realism of the novel, following Aimee and Sutter’s relationship and their individual shortcomings, disappointments and successes.
Tharp said he also had brief visions of Hollywood tarnishing the storyline.
“There was an expectation I had when I first heard they wanted to make the book into a movie,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh no. They’re going to make it into these loud, raunchy teen party comedies.’ But I’m so gratified that they caught the underlying spirit of the book.”
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