So in case you didn’t notice, I wasn’t here last week. I wish I could say it was because I was horribly ill or my pet cockroach died or something, but . . . I was just lazy.
In my defense, I wrote a paper about social classification as opposed to controlled vocabularies for use in thesauri to organize metadata, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for not having much brainpower to spare for The Fault in Our Stars.
So Chapter 18 was . . . the worst. Green basically admitted that he wrote this book to show how much better he is than other writers — and no, I’m not kidding. Remember that interview I linked to last time? Well, I read a bit more of it, and I’m willing to give Green credit, because he thought more about stuff than I originally assumed, and sometimes I accused him of being stupid when he was intentionally setting things up to look dumb. (That doesn’t mean they weren’t poorly executed, but at least he was trying, and I suppose that counts for something.)
But then we come to this bit:
More generally, I wrote this book partly because I was tired of reading stories in which dying or chronically sick people served no purpose in the world except to teach the rest of us to be Grateful For Every Moment or whatever. Making the lives of the dying about the betterment of the social order for the well really offends me, because it implies that the dying are already dead, and that their lives have less intrinsic meaning than other lives.
Well thank you, Green. Whatever would we do without your insightful understanding of the human psyche and your capturing it so beautifully? Literally no one is as talented a writer as you are. You are the best. You are God.
Well, why don’t we start reading The Best Book Ever Written, huh?
He came home from the hospital a few days later, finally and irrevocably robbed of his ambitions. It took more medication to remove him from the pain. He moved upstairs permanently, into a hospital bed near the living room window.
These were days of pajamas and beard scruff, of mumblings and requests and him endlessly thanking everyone for all they were doing on his behalf. One afternoon, he pointed vaguely toward a laundry basket in a corner of the room and asked me, “What’s that?”
“That laundry basket?”
“No, next to it.”
“I don’t see anything next to it.”
“It’s my last shred of dignity. It’s very small.”
Oh the heartrending melodrama.
But his sisters decide to show up because, you know, he’s dying, and Sunshine considers it invasive. Because of course she’s the only one who loves him enough to be with him in his time of need. They’ve been dating for at least a week, after all.
His sisters were there with their banker husbands and three kids.
Banker husbands?! That can only mean one thing . . . CONFORMISTS!
So they’ve set us up immediately to hate these intruders, but Green isn’t so cruel to make us loathe their children — though they don’t get separate personalities, because they’re just going to grow up to be accountants or real estate agents or something equally horrible:
all boys, who ran up to me and chanted who are you who are you who are you, running circles around the entryway like lung capacity was a renewable resource. I’d met the sisters before, but never the kids or their dads.
“I’m Hazel,” I said.
“Gus has a girlfriend,” one of the kids said.
“I am aware that Gus has a girlfriend,” I said.
“She’s got boobies,” another said.
“Is that so?”
“Why do you have that?” the first one asked, pointing at my oxygen cart.
“It helps me breathe,” I said.
“Is Gus awake?”
“No, he’s sleeping.”
“He’s dying,” said another.
“He’s dying,” the third one confirmed, suddenly serious. It was quiet for a moment, and I wondered what I was supposed to say, but then one of them kicked another and they were off to the races again, falling all over each other in a scrum that migrated toward the kitchen.
Kids don’t talk like that. They will never talk like that, and this kind of cutesy-wutesy thing — mixed with the “sudden sage wisdom that can only come from the innocence of children” — is the hallmark of most poorly-written kids.
Besides, enjoy that parade of “said”s? 6 times in 11 paragraphs is something you almost can’t accomplish without trying.
Anyway, she gets past the darling children into the arms of the evil sisters:
I hadn’t gotten to know his half sisters, really, but they both hugged me anyway.
How dare they? It’s not like they know you’re important to the brother they dearly love, and therefore want to have a good relationship with you in order to make things happier for everyone before their brother’s death.
Julie was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to a sleeping Gus in precisely the same voice that one would use to tell an infant he was adorable, saying, “Oh, Gussy Gussy, our little Gussy Gussy.” Our Gussy? Had they acquired him?
They have more claim over him than you do, you hateful little monster. They’re actually his family! They’ve known him longer than an episode of Buffy!
“What’s up, Augustus?” I said, trying to model appropriate behavior.
“Our beautiful Gussy,” Martha said, leaning in toward him. I began to wonder if he was actually asleep or if he’d just laid a heavy finger on the pain pump to avoid the Attack of the Well-Meaning Sisters.
You know, I’m struggling to come up with funny things to say, because all I can hear in my mind is this high-pitched ringing and it’s kinda hard to concentrate. I wonder if that’s healthy?
He woke up after a while and the first thing he said was, “Hazel,” which I have to admit made me kind of happy, like maybe I was part of his family, too.
You literally just claimed to have more right to him than his sisters. I’d complain about inconsistency, but it’s not exactly new, is it?
Well, he wants to go outside, so we do.
It was a cloudy day, still and hot as summer settled in. He wore a long-sleeve navy T-shirt and fleece sweatpants. He was cold all the time for some reason.
Some reason. Intellectually-curious Sunshine doesn’t bother to come up with reasons for anything, despite the fact that it’s always completely obvious. Off the top of my head . . . losing fat, losing muscle, not moving around much, fucking CANCER?!
Since his whole family is together, she’ll probably feel like an outsider and want to let him get reconnected with his siblings, take a moment to get to know the people he loves and learn to love them too . . .
Martha tried to engage Gus in conversation, kneeling down next to him and saying, “You’ve always had such beautiful eyes.” He nodded a little.
One of the husbands put an arm on Gus’s shoulder and said, “How’s that fresh air feel?” Gus shrugged.
“Do you want meds?” his mom asked, joining the circle kneeling around him. I took a step back
Because Saint Hazel always knows the right thing to do. Unlike the family, who doesn’t know a thing about him, because they’re not special.
“Kids!” Julie shouted vaguely.
“I can only hope,” Julie said, turning back to Gus, “they grow into the kind of thoughtful, intelligent young men you’ve become.”
I resisted the urge to audibly gag.
Why are these two separate paragraphs? More importantly, when is she going to cut these poor people some slack, especially considering she’s said way more vomit-inducing things over the course of this book?
A Short List of Things Sunshine Has Said that are More Fawning and Cheesy than His Sister’s Polite Comment:
- “Still athletic, in spite of it all, blessed with balance and quick reflexes that even the abundant narcotics could not fully mask” (Ch. 16)
- “I couldn’t unlove Augustus Waters. And I didn’t want to” (Ch. 13)
- “I present to you Augustus Waters, whose existential curiosity dwarfed that of his well-fed, well-loved, healthy brethren” (Ch. 13)
- “While the mass of men went on leading thoroughly unexamined lives of monstrous consumption, Augustus Waters examined the collection of the Rijksmuseum from afar” (Ch. 13)
- They were applauded for making out at the Anne Frank Museum. I know that’s not a quote, but I just want everyone to remember that that happened.
- “I worked hard to meet his eyes, even though they were the kind of pretty that’s hard to look at” (Ch. 7)
- “I liked his voice. I liked that he took existentially fraught free throws. I liked that he was a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That Made My Skin Feel More Like Skin. And I liked that he had two names” (Ch. 2)
- “I could feel the muscle right beneath the skin, all tense and amazing” (Ch. 2)
- “Long and leanly muscular, he dwarfed the molded plastic elementary school chair he was sitting in. Mahogany hair, straight and short. He looked my age, maybe a year older, and he sat with his tailbone against the edge of the chair, his posture aggressively poor, one hand half in a pocket of dark jeans” (Ch. 1)
- “His voice was low, smoky, and dead sexy” (Ch. 1)
And that’s not even mentioning all the pretentious nonsense that Mr. Psycho says that gets a free pass!
“He’s not that smart,” I said to Julie.
“She’s right. It’s just that most really good-looking people are stupid, so I exceed expectations.”
“Right, it’s primarily his hotness,” I said.
“It can be sort of blinding,” he said.
“It actually did blind our friend Isaac,” I said.
“Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?”
“It is my burden, this beautiful face.”
“Not to mention your body.”
“Seriously, don’t even get me started on my hot bod. You don’t want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace’s breath away,” he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank.
Despite the fact that talking about all the sex you’ve had in front of your family is pretty weird, I can’t pretend that didn’t make me smile a little bit, so Green deserves a point there.
But then it immediately gets annoying again, because this book is almost as painful as the cancer they’re suffering from:
his dad put an arm around me and kissed the side of my head and whispered, “I thank God for you every day, kid.”
Oh, why bother praying? You could just thank Her yourself every time She comes over. She did die for our sins, after all.
Anyway, that was the last good day I had with Gus until the Last Good Day.
Ooooh, cryptic. I bet those caps totally have a purpose and aren’t pretentious bullshit, right? Some sort of scaaaary foreshadowing?
Well, this is getting too intense, so I’ll have to see you guys again next week. Bye!