We’re just going to pretend this is on time, okay?
In my defense, it’s not like this chapter is especially interesting. Just lots and lots of flirting topped with a delicious cherry of stupidity. But last week she was momentarily separated from Mr. Psycho, so we’ll be spared the snotty one-liners masquerading as relatable teenage dialogue for a few pages:
“Yeah, people keep saying my other senses will improve to compensate, but CLEARLY NOT YET. Hi, Support Group Hazel. Come over here so I can examine your face with my hands and see deeper into your soul than a sighted person ever could.”
To be fair, Isaac did just lose his vision, and since he apparently doesn’t see dead people, he’s down to 4 senses. I wouldn’t be in the best mood either. I’ll even lay off Green for the stilted wit, because if I were lying in bed with nothing to do, I’d spend a bunch of time trying to come up with clever lines as well. In my headcanon, Isaac spent hours tweaking the wording of that so it’d sound just right, so he could amuse his friends when they came by and distract them from feeling sorry for him.
“She hasn’t even visited,” he said. “I mean, we were together fourteen months. Fourteen months is a long time.”
I think I like Headcanon-Isaac better than the real one.
If your ex visited, what exactly would you want her to say? “Sorry I dumped you, and sorry you don’t have eyes anymore. That really sucks. You can’t see it, but I’m really hot now. And I have a new boyfriend.” There is literally nothing she could say to you that’d make you feel better, so maybe she’s decided it’d be less painful for you to have a clean break. It’s what I’d do in her situation. Maybe send a card from the family, but while 14 months is like 3 years in high-school-time, it’s not like you were engaged or anything, “always” be damned.
Honestly, why even throw in the Isaac-being-dumped subplot? It doesn’t do anything for his character, Sunshine only cares when it’s convenient to the plot, and his story could’ve been plenty poignant and traumatic without this crap.
The nurse, having finished the bandage change, stepped back. “It’s only been a day, Isaac,” she said, vaguely condescending. “You’ve gotta give yourself time to heal. And fourteen months isn’t that long, not in the scheme of things. You’re just getting started, buddy. You’ll see.”
The nurse left. “Is she gone?”
I nodded, then realized he couldn’t see me nod. “Yeah,” I said.
“‘I’ll see’? Really? Did she seriously say that?”
“Qualities of a Good Nurse: Go,” I said.
“1. Doesn’t pun on your disability,” Isaac said.
“2. Gets blood on the first try,” I said.
“Seriously, that is huge. I mean is this my freaking arm or a dartboard? 3. No condescending voice.”
“How are you doing, sweetie?” I asked, cloying. “I’m going to stick you with a needle now. There might be a little ouchie.”
“Is my wittle fuffywump sickywicky?” he answered.
Qualities of Likable Characters:
1. Don’t recite lists of witty comments like they’re spontaneous, when no one could come up with crap like that off the top of their head.
2. Are capable of basic human empathy and patience.
3. Don’t think they’re better than everyone else in the world.
First off, that nurse is totally right, and once Isaac has more than 16 years of life experience he’s going to realize that. Odds are she didn’t mean to pun on your disability, and if she realized it is probably kicking herself in the next room for being thoughtless. But of course she’s being thoughtless, because she’s a nurse, which means she works long hours and doesn’t get a lot of sleep, cleaning up blood and poop and all sorts of unpleasant things just so you can be ungrateful assholes. Her job involves watching people die, so maybe you can try being decent human beings for once so I don’t long for your painful death with every word you say?
The thing is, I can understand Isaac feeling like this, and I can even understand him not wanting to put on a brave face; apparently he and Sunshine are close enough that he can be open like this, despite them never hanging out. I can even understand Sunshine going along with it in order to make him feel better, because sometimes an unfair rant is just what you need to cheer yourself up. I’ve been known to do that once or twice.
But the way it’s framed makes it seem like they just do this all the time: look down on on other people like they’re so much better than everyone else. (Their previous conversations don’t help, either.) And without some sort of moderating voice — Sunshine understanding how he feels, thinking that maybe it’s a little harsh, something — everything in that my paragraph is conjecture, and for all I know we as readers are expected to cheer them on in their hateful little rampages against the world. And if that’s the case, then all these characters are awful and Green is promoting a nasty little worldview wrapped up in nasty little people.
Besides, that language will never be forgivable, and until Green can learn to mimic human speech, everything his characters say will feel phony and hipster-ish and try-hard and make me hate everyone in this book.
Whatever. They talk some more about his being brokenhearted and believing in “true love” —
“But I believe in true love, you know? I don’t believe that everybody gets to keep their eyes or not get sick or whatever, but everybody should have true love, and it should last at least as long as your life does.”
— and then he passes out from drugs and she leaves, after a visit that was apparently ten minutes. I’d wonder where Isaac’s family and friends are, but everyone in this book has the ability to appear and disappear whenever Green wants, so I’ll just assume they’re in Narnia or something.
Well, that’s enough of that drama. On to the Snooty Author Subplot! (Come to think of it, this book is all subplot and no plot . . . unless you can call Sunshine and Mr. Psycho’s budding “romance” a plot, in which case it’s a hackneyed and predictable plot that can’t hold itself up without the crutches of several equally-uninteresting subplots which seem to go nowhere and mean nothing. Plot cul-de-sacs, if you will.) She got an email back from Snooty Author, and it’s every bit as exciting as it sounds:
Dear Ms. Lancaster,
I fear your faith has been misplaced—but then, faith usually is. I cannot answer your questions, at least not in writing, because to write out such answers would constitute a sequel to An Imperial Affliction, which you might publish or otherwise share on the network that has replaced the brains of your generation. There is the telephone, but then you might record the conversation. Not that I don’t trust you, of course, but I don’t trust you. Alas, dear Hazel, I could never answer such questions except in person, and you are there, while I am here.
That noted, I must confess that the unexpected receipt of your correspondence via Ms. Vliegenthart has delighted me: What a wondrous thing to know that I made something useful to you—even if that book seems so distant from me that I feel it was written by a different man altogether. (The author of that novel was so thin, so frail, so comparatively optimistic!)
Should you find yourself in Amsterdam, however, please do pay a visit at your leisure. I am usually home. I would even allow you a peek at my grocery lists.
Yours most sincerely,
Peter Van Houten
c/o Lidewij Vliegenthart
I’m not surprised that Sunshine’s favorite author has the same obnoxious manner of speaking that she does, but I am a little confused as to why this famous recluse of an author, who has never replied to any correspondence as far as we know, is not only willing to answer all of her questions — ruining the book, but that’s another rant — but invites her to visit him?! Obviously Sunshine is so special and marvelous that he can’t resist breaking all of his previously-established rules for her. Poorly-written characters tend to do that for other poorly-written characters.
Despite Sunshine’s delight —
“WHAT?!” I shouted aloud. “WHAT IS THIS LIFE?”
— her mom isn’t convinced it’s a great idea for her to go off to Amsterdam on her own. Parents, am I right?
“Hazel, I love you, and you know I’d do anything for you, but we don’t—we don’t have the money for international travel, and the expense of getting equipment over there—love, it’s just not—”
Safe? Smart? A reasonable response to what was probably just a polite way to end the email, not an actual invitation?
“It’s really important to you, yeah?” she asked, sitting down, a hand on my calf.
“It would be pretty amazing,” I said, “to be the only person who knows what happens besides him.”
“That would be amazing,” she said. “I’ll talk to your father.”
“No, don’t,” I said. “Just, seriously, don’t spend any money on it please. I’ll think of something.”
It occurred to me that the reason my parents had no money was me. I’d sapped the family savings with Phalanxifor copays, and Mom couldn’t work because she had taken on the full-time profession of Hovering Over Me. I didn’t want to put them even further into debt.
Wow. That’s actually pretty selfless. If only there was a stupid and contrived way to skate past this inconvenience . . . but I’m sure one won’t just materialize within the next few pages.
So she calls Mr. Psycho and reads him the letter, and they chat about how great it’d be to go to Amsterdam, but of course it’ll never happen.
“Okay,” I said.
“Okay,” he answered. I could hear his crooked smile.
A few days pass, and she’s out with her family when she receives a call from Mr. Psycho:
“Are you currently at your house?” he asked.
“Um, no,” I said.
“That was a trick question. I knew the answer, because I am currently at your house.”
They return home, where he’s been waiting (and probably peeing on the house to mark his territory), and he takes her out for a surprise picnic after chatting with her parents:
“You think they liked me?”
“Sure they did. Who cares, though? They’re just parents.”
So much for selflessness. But enough of that conversation cul-de-sac (this book is one giant dead end, isn’t it?). On to the next one!
“One of the many benefits of not smoking is that packs of cigarettes last forever,” he answered. “I’ve had this one for almost a year. A few of them are broken near the filters, but I think this pack could easily get me to my eighteenth birthday.” He held the filter between his fingers, then put it in his mouth.
That’s disgusting. Unless Mr. Psycho has no saliva, which is . . . also pretty disgusting, come to think of it.
And we’re still not done.
“So, okay,” he said. “Okay. Name some things that you never see in Indianapolis.”
“Um. Skinny adults,” I said.
He laughed. “Good. Keep going.”
“Mmm, beaches. Family-owned restaurants. Topography.”
“All excellent examples of things we lack. Also, culture.”
Is this a thing people do? Make lists of generic stuff in an attempt to show off their cleverness? Because I don’t approve. Sing along to bad pop music like the rest of us.
They arrive at this park and have their picnic, which would be romantic if it wasn’t so witty. You see, everything — from the park to the food to the color of their orange juice — is Dutch-themed. Somehow, in the last . . . vague period of time (could be 12 hours, could be half a week), Mr. Psycho planned this lunch, researched Dutch things, purchased those things, and did the awful, horribly-written act this is all leading up to.
You know Make-a-Wish?
“But then again, maybe it will come along: Maybe you’ll realize that your one true Wish is to visit the brilliant Peter Van Houten in his Amsterdamian exile, and you will be glad indeed to have saved your Wish.”
Augustus stopped speaking long enough that I figured the soliloquy was over. “But I didn’t save my Wish,” I said.
“Ah,” he said. And then, after what felt like a practiced pause, he added, “But I saved mine.”
“Really?” I was surprised that Augustus was Wish-eligible, what with being still in school and a year into remission. You had to be pretty sick for the Genies to hook you up with a Wish.
“I got it in exchange for the leg,” he explained. There was all this light on his face; he had to squint to look at me, which made his nose crinkle adorably. “Now, I’m not going to give you my Wish or anything. But I also have an interest in meeting Peter Van Houten, and it wouldn’t make sense to meet him without the girl who introduced me to his book.”
“It definitely wouldn’t,” I said.
“So I talked to the Genies, and they are in total agreement. They said Amsterdam is lovely in the beginning of May. They proposed leaving May third and returning May seventh.”
Yes, this is seriously happening. Van Houten coincidentally invited her to Amsterdam, Mr. Psycho coincidentally still has his Wish, he coincidentally was able to set this all up within a few hours/days, it coincidentally was approved by the “Genies,” who seem pretty lax in their standards, and now here we are, starting out on yet another subplot.
“Augustus,” I said. “Really. You don’t have to do this.”
“Sure I do,” he said. “I found my Wish.”
Excuse me, I need to go vomit. Please let yourselves out and I’ll see you next week, when her parents will surely shoot this down. Because of course her insanely-overprotective parents would never allow her to go off alone with some boy she’s only known for a few days, in another country, with all of her medical needs, right?