Hello all! I’m home from a long and exhausting semester, and what am I going to do to celebrate? Read more John Green, of course!
When we left off last week, Sunshine had just ducked her mother’s overprotectiveness — which is constant, except when she doesn’t care, like any time Gus is involved — and made her way over to the house of her truest of true loves, ostensibly to help The Unluckiest Guy No One Cares About Since Neville Longbottom (Isaac for short) get over some emotional turmoil.
“Hazel Grace,” Augustus said as he heard my footsteps.
“Isaac, Hazel from Support Group is coming downstairs. Hazel, a gentle reminder: Isaac is in the midst of a psychotic episode.”
You’d think, considering Mr. Psycho is such a genius, he’d know what the word “psychotic” means, and how it’s totally not applicable to this instance. But I’m being nitpicky; nothing wrong with a little hyperbole when mocking your best friend’s pain, am I right?
My Favorite Character Simply Because He Hasn’t Said Anything Mind-Numbingly Stupid or Hateful Yet (Isaac for short) is not doing well:
Augustus and Isaac were sitting on the floor in gaming chairs shaped like lazy Ls, staring up at a gargantuan television. The screen was split between Isaac’s point of view on the left, and Augustus’s on the right. They were soldiers fighting in a bombed-out modern city. I recognized the place from The Price of Dawn. As I approached, I saw nothing unusual: just two guys sitting in the lightwash of a huge television pretending to kill people.
Only when I got parallel to them did I see Isaac’s face. Tears streamed down his reddened cheeks in a continual flow, his face a taut mask of pain. He stared at the screen, not even glancing at me, and howled, all the while pounding away at his controller.
Logistically, that makes no sense. Wouldn’t howling mess up your gameplay? Intense emotional reactions and skilled gaming rarely go hand-in-hand.
“Isaac?” No response. Not even the slightest hint that he was aware of my existence. Just the tears flowing down his face onto his black T-shirt.
I’m not sure how believable this is. I know grief takes all sorts of interesting forms, but this doesn’t seem like a reasonable reaction to . . . well, anything. It wouldn’t bother me so much if it wasn’t being played off as a sort of grim comic relief, over-exaggerated in order to give ample opportunities for Mr. Psycho and Sunshine to be witty.
“Girls think they’re only allowed to wear dresses on formal occasions, but I like a woman who says, you know, I’m going over to see a boy who is having a nervous breakdown, a boy whose connection to the sense of sight itself is tenuous, and gosh dang it, I am going to wear a dress for him.”
Hey, I was right! I hate being right.
Maybe you could try for a little empathy, buddy? And stop talking like you rehearsed all your lines in front of a mirror?
But in Mr. Psycho’s defense . . . uh, at least he hasn’t tried to watch Sunshine sleep?
“And yet,” I said, “Isaac won’t so much as glance over at me. Too in love with Monica, I suppose,” which resulted in a catastrophic sob.
This Novel’s Butt-Monkey (Isaac for short) has exhibited exactly two character traits thus far: being blind (or soon to be) and having a girlfriend. Obviously one of those has gone horribly wrong . . . and if it wasn’t the girlfriend, he’d probably still be off with her. Sunshine, who Green tries to convince us is so much better than the rest of us philistines, couldn’t put 2-and-2 together enough to guess that maaaaaybe bringing the girlfriend up isn’t the best idea?
“Isaac and Monica are no longer a going concern, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He just wants to cry and play Counterinsurgence 2: The Price of Dawn.”
Look, I guessed it again! It’s almost like this book is agonizingly predictable.
By the way, let’s play a quick game. It’s called Spot the Bullshit. Quick, tell me what’s wrong with these lines?
“Isaac, I don’t know about you, but I have the vague sense that we are being outflanked.”
“Isaac, I feel a growing concern about our position. If you agree, head over to that power station, and I’ll cover you.” Isaac ran toward a nondescript building while Augustus fired a machine gun wildly in a series of quick bursts, running behind him.
“I don’t mean to criticize you in your moment of great weakness, but you’ve allowed us to be outflanked, and now there’s nothing between the terrorists and the school.” Isaac’s character took off running toward the fire, zigging and zagging down a narrow alleyway.
“You could go over the bridge and circle back,” I said, a tactic I knew about thanks to The Price of Dawn.
Augustus sighed. “Sadly, the bridge is already under insurgent control due to questionable strategizing by my bereft cohort.”
- Nothing. This book is perfect.
- Tee hee, girls don’t know how to play video games and need books to tell them what to do!
- WHAT KIND OF FREAK TALKS LIKE THAT WHILE PLAYING GAMES?!
If you guessed 1, you’re in the wrong place. If you guessed 2 or 3, then clearly you’ve been here long enough to know what annoys me.
Has Green ever actually played a video game? Ever? Because people who are being shot at by enemy troops don’t talk like that, even if those troops aren’t actually real. People playing Mario don’t talk like that, and they’re being hit by Koopa shells instead of bombs!
This really annoys me, because it could’ve been a great chance to show the characters getting enthusiastic about something, losing their cool, finding themselves really wrapped up in a way that might make them at least a little relatable, but no. It’s just an opportunity for Gus to spout some more witty one-liners and continue to act above it all. Take a look at another group of guys playing a war game, involving killing a bunch of terrorists, also based off a novel (warning for language):
See the difference? They go off-topic, panic, and in general act like they’re having fun, which makes it fun to watch them. Mr. Psycho, on the other hand, shows all the passion of someone at an art gallery, and if he doesn’t care, why should we?
Also, let’s be honest: what kind of video game wouldn’t allow you to retake the bridge, or at least shoot the terrorists along the road between the bridge and the school? A sniper rifle and some grenades ought to take care of this problem.
But in my umbrage at watching the Tin Man attempt to kill terrorists —
— I skipped over the worst line of the novel so far:
“Pain demands to be felt,” he said, which was a line from An Imperial Affliction.
That is a bad line. That’s a really bad line. If I could trust Sunshine’s taste in literature before, I certainly can’t now, because how can a book she considers “honest” have a line like that, which only resembles human speech in that it has words strung together?
Anyway, they lose the game, perhaps because they only have the vaguest notion of how gaming works. But Mr. Psycho finally seems to inject some emotion into his voice:
Isaac dropped his controller in disappointment. “If the bastards can’t take hostages, they just kill them and claim we did it.”
“Cover me!” Augustus said as he jumped out from behind the wall and raced toward the school. Isaac fumbled for his controller and then started firing while the bullets rained down on Augustus, who was shot once and then twice but still ran, Augustus shouting, “YOU CAN’T KILL MAX MAYHEM!” and with a final flurry of button combinations, he dove onto the grenade, which detonated beneath him. His dismembered body exploded like a geyser and the screen went red. A throaty voice said, “MISSION FAILURE,” but Augustus seemed to think otherwise as he smiled at his remnants on the screen. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and shoved it between his teeth. “Saved the kids,” he said.
Hey, that was almost enjoyable. But wait, what kind of game decides to just blow up everything if you’re winning, thus making it impossible to successfully complete the mission? This game is stupid.
Sunshine, living up to her name, points out that Gus’s heroics actually mean nothing.
“All salvation is temporary,” Augustus shot back. “I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year. No one’s gonna buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.”
That’s . . . surprisingly deep. Sure, it sounds like something he wrote down weeks ago and has been waiting for an opportunity to say, but still, it’s not as pretentious and annoying as most of his dialogue (that “Hazel Grace” nonsense excepted).
“Whoa, okay,” I said. “We’re just talking about pixels.”
And she actually has a reasonable reaction! This book isn’t suddenly getting good on me, is it? I’m not sure I could handle the shock, but I must admit it’d be a welcome surprise.
But the dumpee has still been dumped, and they must talk about it in an attempt to inject emotional weight into this chapter:
“She didn’t want to dump a blind guy,” I said. He nodded, the tears not like tears so much as a quiet metronome — steady, endless.
“She said she couldn’t handle it,” he told me. “I’m about to lose my eyesight and she can’t handle it.”
I was thinking about the word handle, and all the unholdable things that get handled. “I’m sorry,” I said.
Sure, think about yourself right now. Why the hell not.
“I kept saying ‘always’ to her today, ‘always always always,’ and she just kept talking over me and not saying it back. It was like I was already gone, you know? ‘Always’ was a promise! How can you just break the promise?”
“Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them,” I said.
Isaac shot me a look. “Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway. Don’t you believe in true love?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have an answer. But I thought that if true love did exist, that was a pretty good definition of it.
I don’t even know where to begin.
- NO, that’s not at all what love is! “Keeping the promise anyway”? You’re telling me you want her to shackle herself to you despite not loving you anymore? You want her miserable, both of you trapped in a “love” based on pity and emotional manipulation? Because that’s not “true love” love, pal. That’s messed up.
- It sucks that you got dumped, especially right before going blind. That’s really awful. But it was a high-school relationship. You know how many marriages came from high-school sweethearts? 2 percent. Odds are you were going to break up sooner or later, no matter how many times you said “always” to each other. It’s part of growing up, and you probably should’ve been aware of this as a possibility on some level. Teenagers are stupid, but they’re not blind.
- DAMN IT, YOU WERE THE ONLY CHARACTER I LIKED!
Oh, but A Wild Asshole Appears! (Isaac for short) isn’t done:
“Well, I believe in true love,” Isaac said. “And I love her. And she promised. She promised me always.” He stood and took a step toward me. I pushed myself up, thinking he wanted a hug or something, but then he just spun around, like he couldn’t remember why he’d stood up in the first place, and then Augustus and I both saw this rage settle into his face.
Uh . . . that sounds like a scene from a horror novel or something. If Green knew how unlikable his characters are, this would’ve ended with Isaac (who no longer deserves wacky nicknames) wearing his ex-girlfriend’s skin and having to be put down by Mr. Psycho and Hazel in the middle of a forest, the police only arriving in time to take the shell-shocked heroes away after the carnage.
But instead Isaac destroys everything Gus owns, and the latter is fine with this because he’s apparently so rich it doesn’t matter. Way to make him even more relatable.
Isaac reached for a basketball trophy from the shelf above the bed and then held it over his head as if waiting for permission. “Yes,” Augustus said. “Yes!” The trophy smashed against the floor, the plastic basketball player’s arm splintering off, still grasping its ball. Isaac stomped on the trophy. “Yes!” Augustus said. “Get it!”
Where are Gus’s parents? How is the screaming and shattering of plastic not getting their attention? In fact, where are Isaac’s parents? Why does this book take place in a universe where adults only care about their children when it’s convenient to the plot?
Anyway, we end on a final image of Isaac’s frightening emotional breakdown:
The poor, mangled bodies of plastic basketballers littered the carpeted ground: here, a ball palmed by a disembodied hand; there, two torsoless legs caught midjump. Isaac kept attacking the trophies, jumping on them with both feet, screaming, breathless, sweaty, until finally he collapsed on top of the jagged trophic remnants.
You know, this seems like an issue that could be helped by, say, a group of supportive people who’ve been through or are going through this kind of thing too, mediated by someone trained to help? A supporting group of sorts? I think there was something like that earlier in the book, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.
“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”
All right, thanks to Isaac’s sudden doucheification I’m way over my self-imposed word limit, so let’s just end this with a final image of how this chapter and its terrible, terrible finishing line makes me feel:
See you next week!