Still really excited to be here, guys.
I think I made it clear last week how much I hate this chapter. It’s one of 3 posts so far that I’ve had zero fun making, and get very little joy out of reading because the content is just such a slog to get through.
I couldn’t quite put it into words then — I just kept saying it was “bad” but didn’t know how. And sure, some of it is the insane unreality of Amsterdam, a lot of it is Sunshine’s obnoxious waffling, and Mr. Psycho always makes me want to die, but I didn’t realize the chapter’s biggest sin until my friend Jen pointed it out: it’s boring. Like, “sitting through a 3-hour lecture on how to fill out taxes” boring.
And that is what makes it so hard to talk about. Stupid is funny, but boring is just miserable. In fact, I sat down to write this post and then decided I couldn’t do it and went to play Minecraft instead, claiming I was doing it “for the blog.”
But I’m back, and because I promised myself I wouldn’t work on fanfic or my giant Minecraft colosseum until I finish this thing, I guess we might as well get started. And where did we leave off?
Some people in a lacquered wooden boat approached us on the canal below. One of them, a woman with curly blond hair, maybe thirty, drank from a beer then raised her glass toward us and shouted something.
“We don’t speak Dutch,” Gus shouted back.
One of the others shouted a translation: “The beautiful couple is beautiful.”
Right. Moving on, then . . . they’re still at dinner, and it’s a million times longer than it has to be, since they describe every single course and how delicious it is. Did Green have the munchies when he wrote this or something?
I wanted everything to be perfect. It was perfect, I guess, but it felt like someone had tried to stage the Amsterdam of my imagination, which made it hard to forget that this dinner, like the trip itself, was a cancer perk.
You know that pointing out how fake it is doesn’t actually excuse it, right? Unless you’re trying to suggest a) that is staged, which is bordering on impossible at this point, or b) that everyone’s treating her like a princess because she has cancer, which isn’t how people would ever behave in the real world. We noticed how ridiculous it was, Green; you didn’t need to draw our attention to it, because our attention was already there.
I just wanted us to be talking and joking comfortably, like we were on the couch together back home, but some tension underlay everything.
Some tension. I wonder what that could be . . . Do you think maybe it was him declaring his love for you and you not returning it? You know, that thing that happened less than 12 hours ago?
Well, they talk about how much cancer sucks, which I can’t argue with, and not having had cancer I don’t know if it’s normal to talk about it as often as they do. Maybe this is healthy . . . though it’s not super interesting to read about, especially when it’s constantly romanticized and relegated to the position of “convenient subplot.”
I had my whole funeral planned out and everything, and then right before the surgery, I asked my parents if I could buy a suit, like a really nice suit, just in case I bit it. Anyway, I’ve never had occasion to wear it. Until tonight.”
“So it’s your death suit.”
Ew. Morbid. And it’s pretty nice that he apparently hasn’t gained or lost any weight since buying it, despite having gone on and off chemo, through surgery, and then year(s?) of no longer exercising. Add “clothes” to the list of Magical Things That Always Seem to Work Out Perfectly for Our Heroes.
“Don’t you have a death outfit?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s a dress I bought for my fifteenth birthday party. But I don’t wear it on dates.”
His eyes lit up. “We’re on a date?” he asked.
I looked down, feeling bashful. “Don’t push it.”
For the love of God, CHECK “YES” OR “NO” ALREADY!
But now they’re on the track of being depressing as all hell, and start chatting about the meaning of life or whatever because apparently in Amsterdam you’re allowed to stay at the table for hours without the waiters getting pissed off:
“If you don’t live a life in service of a greater good, you’ve gotta at least die a death in service of a greater good, you know? And I fear that I won’t get either a life or a death that means anything.”
I just shook my head.
“What?” he asked.
“Your obsession with, like, dying for something or leaving behind some great sign of your heroism or whatever. It’s just weird.”
“Everyone wants to lead an extraordinary life.”
“Not everyone,” I said, unable to disguise my annoyance.
“Are you mad?”
“It’s just,” I said, and then couldn’t finish my sentence. “Just,” I said again. Between us flickered the candle. “It’s really mean of you to say that the only lives that matter are the ones that are lived for something or die for something. That’s a really mean thing to say to me.”
. . . “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean it like that. I was just thinking about myself.”
“Yeah, you were,” I said.
Okay, no. Not a single bit of this response is justified, because Sunshine is totally in the wrong here. So girl, let me preach a little wisdom at you: You’re the one who was too busy thinking about herself to listen to someone else’s deepest fears about life and death. You called his dreams weird when he was vulnerable enough to share them with you without a veil of smugness. You are the asshole in this conversation, not him.
I felt like a little kid for some reason
Gee, I wonder why? I swear, every time Green uses the phrase “some reason,” the reason is totally obvious. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but it gets old very quickly.
I used to struggle with whether I hated Sunshine or Mr. Psycho more, but now I think I’m going to have to side with the pretentious creep who doesn’t understand boundaries. I hate having to make that decision, but with characters like these I don’t have much of a choice. So there, Sunshine. I hope you will use my brilliant sermon to change your ways and become less of a toxic monster.
Luckily this angst lasts for half a second, because what are consequences?
I worried I might puke, actually, because I often puked after eating. (Not bulimia, just cancer.)
Odd that this hasn’t been mentioned yet, like Green literally thought of it right now. Magical Plot Cancer strikes again! But it isn’t mentioned after this sentence, so we’ll pretend it wasn’t a desperate grab for pity because Green noticed that Sunshine wasn’t being likable.
I smiled. He really did like me.
Really? What was your first clue?
(Aside: There’s some videos of this scene on Youtube, and it’s actually pretty well-acted. I still want to punch that actor, but the cast is talented, and I could see how this could make someone cry/swoon/not want to punch him in the face for a few seconds.)
Maybe I was a narcissist or something, but when I realized it there in that moment at Oranjee, it made me like him even more.
We already knew you were a narcissist, sweetheart, but thanks for clarifying it.
Have you kittens wondered how they end up paying for such an extravagant meal? Don’t worry; it wouldn’t be John Green if they had to put any effort!
When our waiter appeared to take dessert away, he said, “Your meal has been paid for by Mr. Peter Van Houten.”
Wow, this misanthropic recluse sure is friendly! Not to mention rich, which is weird considering he hasn’t written a book in years, and there’s nothing to indicate that AIA achieved any sort of mainstream success. Maybe he’s just really good at playing the lottery.
They finally leave the restaurant and talk about how AIA is the best book ever written:
I hadn’t realized he’d thought about the book so much, that An Imperial Affliction mattered to Gus independently of me mattering to him.
But to be fair, why wouldn’t she think that? Everyone clearly revolves around her, so she hasn’t learned how to think about anything other than herself. Case in point:
Mostly we just stared into the canal. I was thinking a lot about how they’d made this place exist even though it should’ve been underwater, and how I was for Dr. Maria a kind of Amsterdam, a half-drowned anomaly, and that made me think about dying.
It’s a canal. There’s no reason to jump to what a fragile precious snowflake you are, Sunshine. You’re staring at mostly-stagnant water, not a cemetery or a painting titled “Girl Tragically Dying of Cancer.”
To top off the most romantic date/non-date ever, Sunshine asks Mr. Psycho about his ex. Because we all know that when you’re afraid of hurting someone you love, the best thing to do is make him recount painful memories on your first romantic outing.
“I mean aside from us obviously, cancer kids are not statistically more likely to be awesome or compassionate or perseverant or whatever.”
“Caroline was always moody and miserable, but I liked it. I liked feeling as if she had chosen me as the only person in the world not to hate, and so we spent all this time together just ragging on everyone, you know? Ragging on the nurses and the other kids and our families and whatever else.”
Sounds like you and Sunshine. Should I be concerned that you keep repeating the same behaviors with all your significant others?
“I mean, one of her nurses told me once that the kind of tumor Caroline had is known among medical types as the A*shole Tumor, because it just turns you into a monster. So here’s this girl missing a fifth of her brain who’s just had a recurrence of the A*shole Tumor, and so she was not, you know, the paragon of stoic cancer-kid heroism. She was . . . I mean, to be honest, she was a bitch. But you can’t say that, because she had this tumor, and also she’s, I mean, she’s dead. And she had plenty of reason to be unpleasant, you know?”
Really? You’re going to censor “asshole”? Trying to protect your readers from the dangerous influences of a mild expletive, in a book where every character can be described by that expletive? Also, “bitch” is okay? If I may let out my inner pedant, why is the one solely degrading femininity acceptable but the gender-neutral one isn’t?
Stop being a bitch, Green. And an asshole. And a dick, while we’re at it. In fact, if you could stop being everything that makes you “you” (at least as far as your writing and public persona are concerned) that’d be fabulous.
Anyway, Caroline has a horrible illness eating away at her brain, which alters her personality and makes her into an unpleasant person. What’s your excuse for being a jerk, Gus?
But I’m being harsh; this is a rather powerful scene, and does a lot to make Mr. Psycho more sympathetic. Look, this is actually sad:
“Caroline got worse every day. She went home after a while and there were moments where I thought we could have, like, a regular relationship, but we couldn’t, really, because she had no filter between her thoughts and her speech, which was sad and unpleasant and frequently hurtful. But, I mean, you can’t dump a girl with a brain tumor. And her parents liked me, and she has this little brother who is a really cool kid. I mean, how can you dump her? She’s dying.
“It took forever. It took almost a year, and it was a year of me hanging out with this girl who would, like, just start laughing out of nowhere and point at my prosthetic and call me Stumpy.”
That’s quite the moral quandary for this book: sacrificing one’s personal happiness, how far you can go for someone else, why we do things for others, etc. It makes Gus seem like a pretty good guy, doesn’t it?
Except . . . he liked that she was nasty harpy, until she turned it on him. He was fine with her insulting everyone else, though.
Plus of course he didn’t really love her, because Sunshine has to be his first and only love. It isn’t twoo wuv if you wuvved someone beforehand, because then you’re tainted. And we can’t have that!
“I mean, it was the tumor. It ate her brain, you know? Or it wasn’t the tumor. I have no way of knowing, because they were inseparable, she and the tumor.”
I think you can safely assume that “The Asshole Tumor” made her an asshole. Don’t crap on her memory by implying she was naturally evil.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s all good, Hazel Grace. But just to be clear, when I thought I saw Caroline Mathers’s ghost in Support Group, I was not entirely happy. I was staring, but I wasn’t yearning, if you know what I mean.”
Then why did you so aggressively pursue a relationship with her? You of all people should’ve been leery of getting that close to someone who might end up belittling you all the time. (And maybe you should’ve been, considering that dinner conversation up there.)
He pulled the pack out of his pocket and placed the cigarette back in it.
That’s still gross.
It’s still well above par for Green, though, so let’s close out this chapter with another sweet moment:
“I don’t ever want to do that to you,” I told him.
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
And all the tweens faint. Okay, I’m joking. There’s nothing to complain about here, right? He’s willing to be in a relationship with her, despite the fact that she could die and leave him all alone. That’s a noble sacrifice.
Or it was, until I realized that Gus is dying and already knows it (you’ll find that out later, don’t worry) . . . which is probably why he’s opening up in a way he hasn’t before. He knows he doesn’t have to worry about her dying on him, because he’ll die on her first. So for all her worrying about hurting you — annoying and inconsistent though it is — you don’t really care about breaking her heart.
So Green managed to make his character likable and write a good scene, but it’s immediately ruined once you put a modicum of thought into it.
So much for pitying him. I guess this means Sunshine’s my favorite again . . . which makes me want to raze everything to the ground and salt the earth.
Well, that was actually pretty fun. Hope you ducklings enjoyed it as well, and here’s hoping the next chapter will be more interesting!