Cover to Cover: The Fault in Our Stars, Ch. 23

It’s that time again!

No, not yet. Wait until the blog's over.
No, not that. Wait until the blog’s over.

Once again, we are ready to voyage into the beautiful and haunting world of John Green, where entitled little shits are treated like the Second Coming of Christ and somehow we’re expected to read the same chapter over and over without noticing.

But whatever. There aren’t any funerals or wakes or Facebook posts for her to be miserable about, so hopefully this will be slightly more bearable. Hey, for all we know this could be a great chapter, full of the insight and heartrending drama that we’ve been seeking in vain for months now!

We can hope, right?

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Remembering that Isaac exists, she decides to go to his house:

“We should go do something,” I said.

“Can the something be play blind-guy video games while sitting on the couch?”

“Yeah, that’s just the kind of something I had in mind.”

Oh, great. Because that was so interesting and fun to experience last time.

Though, to be fair, this actually is kinda funny:

The most entertaining part of the game by far was trying to get the computer to engage us in humorous conversation:

Me: “Touch the cave wall.”

Computer: “You touch the cave wall. It is moist.”

Isaac: “Lick the cave wall.”

Computer: “I do not understand. Repeat?”

Me: “Hump the moist cave wall.”

Computer: “You attempt to jump. You hit your head.”

Isaac: “Not jump. HUMP.”

Computer: “I don’t understand.”

Isaac: “Dude, I’ve been alone in the dark in this cave for weeks and I need some relief. HUMP THE CAVE WALL.”

Aside from the return of the inexplicable script form, this is kinda charming, and resembles something real teenagers would do with a game this boring.

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Though I must admit, I don’t think humping a cave would feel very good, no matter how moist it was. That’s just a whole bunch of dick lacerations waiting to happen.

Isaac: “I dislike living in a world without Augustus Waters.”

Computer: “I don’t understand—”

Isaac: “Me neither. Pause.”

So they chat about Mr. Psycho’s death: whether it hurt, that it sucks, whatever bullshit this is:

I was thinking about way back in the very beginning in the Literal Heart of Jesus when Gus told us that he feared oblivion, and I told him that he was fearing something universal and inevitable, and how really, the problem is not suffering itself or oblivion itself but the depraved meaninglessness of these things, the absolutely inhuman nihilism of suffering. I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us—not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals.

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But then Green decides that the conversation hasn’t revolved around Sunshine enough and immediately remedies that problem:

“Gus really loved you, you know,” he said.

"DO YOU THINK I'VE MADE THIS CLEAR ENOUGH YET?!"
“DO YOU THINK I’VE MADE THIS CLEAR ENOUGH YET?!”

They talk about how amazing she was and how madly Gus was in love with her, but then we are given a shock:

“Did he ever give you that thing he was writing?”

“What thing?”

“That sequel or whatever to that book you liked.”

I turned to Isaac. “What?”

Okay, maybe “shock” was a bit of an exaggeration. “Insignificant plot point meant to stretch the story another few chapters because I’m getting paid by the word” might be somewhat more accurate.

“He said he was working on something for you but he wasn’t that good of a writer.”

“When did he say this?”

“I don’t know. Like, after he got back from Amsterdam at some point.”

“At which point?” I pressed. Had he not had a chance to finish it? Had he finished it and left it on his computer or something?

“Um,” Isaac sighed. “Um, I don’t know. We talked about it over here once. He was over here, like—uh, we played with my email machine and I’d just gotten an email from my grandmother. I can check on the machine if you—”

“Yeah, yeah, where is it?”

What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you

Listen, I don’t want to come across as unsympathetic to Sunshine, or unappreciative of the epic and soul-changing love that she and Augustus shared —

The ship might've said on that one.
The ship might’ve said on that last one.

— but I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s kind of rude and bitchy of her to hound Isaac about this. I mean, you came over to hang out with your friend, someone you supposedly have known since before you met Mr. Psycho; now you’re going to run out on him after only 20 minutes, leaving him to grieve alone (since, as was mentioned in the first paragraph, his family is out at a movie) and making it obvious that you only care about him as a means to a (quite literally) dead end?

“I’m gonna go to his house,” I told Isaac.

Apparently she is. Classy lady, our heroine.

I hurried out to the minivan and hauled the oxygen cart up and into the passenger seat. I started the car. A hip-hop beat blared from the stereo, and as I reached to change the radio station, someone started rapping. In Swedish.

I was going to complain about how she describes things we could’ve safely assumed, like how when you get into a car, you typically then start it. Then I was going to complain about how she somehow didn’t notice someone sitting less than 3 feet behind her, even though she’s not actually the one who’s blind.

But then I realized that there was only one person whose Single Interest Allotment was Swedish hip-hop, and my heart sank so far and fast that it’s become permanently lodged in my pelvis.

I swiveled around and screamed when I saw Peter Van Houten sitting in the backseat.

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Oh, sweet Peter. How I’d hoped you had escaped back to Amsterdam with some shreds of dignity intact.

“I apologize for alarming you,” Peter Van Houten said over the rapping. He was still wearing the funeral suit, almost a week later. He smelled like he was sweating alcohol. “You’re welcome to keep the CD,” he said. “It’s Snook, one of the major Swedish—”

“Ah ah ah ah GET OUT OF MY CAR.” I turned off the stereo.

“It’s your mother’s car, as I understand it,” he said. “Also, it wasn’t locked.”

  1. Who doesn’t lock their car in 2012?
  2. Who still listens to CDs in 2012?
  3. It might not’ve been locked, but unless you stole her keys or hot-wired it, there’s no way you got that CD in. Most players don’t work without the car running, and even if it accepted her CD, it never would’ve automatically tuned to her CD player without direction — unless, you might argue, it had already been set to play CDs when she was last in the car. But that would only be the case if she’d had a CD in there already, and the car would’ve had to have been on in order to eject it. Besides, she clearly assumed that this was the radio, implying that it hadn’t been on the CD setting. So . . . either this was impossible, or Green passed up an awesome opportunity to make Grand Theft Van Houten in favor of this scene, which is unforgivable.
  4. He didn’t pack a change of clothes? Was he too drunk? If that’s the case, how’d he get a plane ticket? Can you be sober enough to make all the accommodations for international travel, but too drunk to put clothes in a bag? Or did the Genies do this, too? (They seem to do everything around here . . .) Or was he so wounded by Sunshine’s epic take-down at Mr. Psycho’s funeral that he hasn’t been able to get dressed since? Either way, he seems to have somehow gone from “depressed and belligerent, but functional alcoholic” to “so drunk he’ll break into stranger’s cars and not shower” in, like, a matter of weeks. Which I think means we can add another to the list of lives our “star-crossed” lovers have ruined over the course of this novel.
  5. “Ah ah ah ah get out of my car, out of my car! Ah ah ah ah! GET OUT OF MY CAAAAA-AAAAA-AAAAR!”
  6. I hate this book.

“I am here simply to apologize. You were correct in noting earlier that I am a pathetic little man, dependent upon alcohol. I had one acquaintance who only spent time with me because I paid her to do so—worse, still, she has since quit, leaving me the rare soul who cannot acquire companionship even through bribery. It is all true, Hazel. All that and more.”

“Okay,” I said. It would have been a more moving speech had he not slurred his words.

Weird, I tend to get the most sympathy when I'm drunk . . .
Weird, I tend to get more sympathy when I’m drunk . . .

Well, look. Now literally every character has validated Sunshine’s perfection. Isn’t that just lovely. Now if we could just wrap the book up, I can continue to eat my way through the giant Pizza Hut diabetes-shaped-like-a-cookie I bought in a storm of bad decisions —

“You remind me of Anna.”

Oh, right. We still have 2 and half more chapters. Yippee.

I put the car in reverse and backed out. I couldn’t make him leave, and I didn’t have to. I’d drive to Gus’s house, and Gus’s parents would make him leave.

I mean, you are at someone else’s house. I know Isaac can’t see what’s going on, but you could call him and ask him to call the cops. Or you could call the cops yourself. Or get out of the car. Or do basically anything besides drive a potential madman around town and foist him upon people who’ve already suffered more than anyone should have to.

“You are, of course, familiar,” Van Houten said, “with Antonietta Meo.”

“Yeah, no,” I said. I turned on the stereo, and the Swedish hip-hop blared, but Van Houten yelled over it.

“She may soon be the youngest nonmartyr saint ever beatified by the Catholic Church. She had the same cancer that Mr. Waters had, osteosarcoma. They removed her right leg. The pain was excruciating. As Antonietta Meo lay dying at the ripened age of six from this agonizing cancer, she told her father, ‘Pain is like fabric: The stronger it is, the more it’s worth.’ Is that true, Hazel?”

I wasn’t looking at him directly but at his reflection in the mirror. “No,” I shouted over the music. “That’s bullshit.”

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No one is allowed to understand grief except for people who are going to die young of cancer, and/or those who have lost limbs! . . . Except for this little girl, who lost a limb and died at almost a third of Sunshine’s age to cancer. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about, and it’s totally okay to call her wisdom bullshit. There’s nothing disgustingly rude and disrespectful about that in the slightest.

This is even less forgivable because Antoinetta Meo was a fucking real personSeriously, Green? With all the stupid nonsense you’ve made up so far, you had to crap all over the sincerely-held beliefs of a six year old who actually existed, actually lost her leg, and actually died. You can muster up exactly zero empathy for the tragic death of this little girl, and yet you expect us to wail and gnash our teeth when the fictional hunk you conjure up does, despite him being full of more bullshit than a rodeo?

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Also, look at the damn road while you’re driving. Just because you’re dying doesn’t mean you get to take other people out with you.

“I’m sorry I ruined your trip. You were too young. You were—” He broke down. As if he had a right to cry over Gus. Van Houten was just another of the endless mourners who did not know him, another too-late lamentation on his wall.

Not this again. Next.

Anyway, apparently the character that Sunshine identifies with so much is based on Van Houten’s real, dead daughter. She learns this through the power of being psychic:

“I am trying,” he said. “I am trying, I swear.” It was around then that I realized Peter Van Houten had a dead person in his family. I considered the honesty with which he had written about cancer kids; the fact that he couldn’t speak to me in Amsterdam except to ask if I’d dressed like her on purpose; his shittiness around me and Augustus; his aching question about the relationship between pain’s extremity and its value. He sat back there drinking, an old man who’d been drunk for years. I thought of a statistic I wish I didn’t know: Half of marriages end in the year after a child’s death. I looked back at Van Houten. I was driving down College and I pulled over behind a line of parked cars and asked, “You had a kid who died?”

“My daughter,” he said. “She was eight. Suffered beautifully. Will never be beatified.”

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It’s almost ironic, isn’t it? When we were supposed to hate Van Houten’s guts for being a crotchety asshole, I found him at his most sympathetic and endearing. But now, as Green desperately plays his tiny violin and wills weepy housewives all over the world to break down into tears over poor, tragic Peter, I’ve lost the ability to care about him.

Instead of having a realistic, understandable motive for his behavior, Green decided to dust off the Scrooge trope of having him really just be mean because he had a sad past, totally flattening out his character and reducing all of his behavior, accomplishments, and vices to this single event. From this moment on, he is nothing but his daughter’s death . . . which is a little weird, considering one of the many things this book congratulates itself on (tangentially related but hilarious) is how kids with cancer are so much more than their disease. Apparently that, like “reflections on life and suffering only count if I agree with them,” only applies to a select few.

Those few, of course, being pretentious, self-aggrandizing, snobby, white, upper-middle-class-no-problems-with-medical-bills-despite-one-parent-not-working, hipster douchebags. They are the only ones allowed to have opinions.

One might be tempted to note that all of those things could apply to me as much as Hazel or Augustus. And to that I say . . . hey, check out my new collarbone piercing! Isn't it pretty?
One might be tempted to point out that all those things could apply to me as much as Hazel or Augustus. And to that I say . . . hey, check out my new collarbone piercing! Isn’t it pretty?

Well, anyway, now it’s time for more sage musings from our wise-beyond-her-years protagonist:

“You should go home,” I told him. “Sober up. Write another novel. Do the thing you’re good at. Not many people are lucky enough to be so good at something.”

He stared at me through the mirror for a long time. “Okay,” he said. “Yeah. You’re right. You’re right.” But even as he said it, he pulled out his mostly empty fifth of whiskey. He drank, recapped the bottle, and opened the door. “Good-bye, Hazel.”

“Take it easy, Van Houten.”

He sat down on the curb behind the car. As I watched him shrink in the rearview mirror, he pulled out the bottle and for a second it looked like he would leave it on the curb. And then he took a swig.

Look at the road while you’re driving! Jeez!

Anyway, it’s so sad. If only he’d listened to the catechism of Saint Hazel, he might’ve been all right. But he didn’t, and is now doomed to misery and perpetual inebriation.

No, wait, that's me.
No, wait, that’s me.

And somehow this chapter is still not over. I don’t think there’s enough to make it its own blog, though, so we’ll just make this one a freebie. It took long enough, anyway; might as well be a little meatier, too.

She goes to Gus’ house in search of the story he’d written for her:

It was a hot afternoon in Indianapolis, the air thick and still like we were inside a cloud. It was the worst kind of air for me, and I told myself it was just the air when the walk from his driveway to his front door felt infinite.

You and your infinities. We get it: sometimes things feel longer because they cause a strong emotional reaction, like your romance. Or dealing with death.

Or this book.
Or this book.

She hangs out with the parents, and we realize exactly how little she cares about the people in Mr. Psycho’s life despite apparently being in love with him. There’s a tepid comment about her being sad that his parents aren’t holding hands, then happier when they do, but that’s about it. No attempts to understand them, help them, or even make conversation. She just eats their food and demands to see his computer.

I don’t know why I’m complaining, because if he tried to add tenderness to this scene it’d be even longer and just as incompetent, but I’m continually astounded at how little empathy Sunshine shows to other human beings. There’s being a self-absorbed teenager, and then there’s . . . this.

She tells his parents why she’s here:

“We can check his computer,” his mom said.

“He wasn’t on it much the last few weeks,” I said.

“That’s true. I’m not even sure we brought it upstairs. Is it still in the basement, Mark?”

“No idea.”

“Well,” I said, “can I . . .” I nodded toward the basement door.

“We’re not ready,” his dad said. “But of course, yes, Hazel. Of course you can.”

It seems like a gross invasion of the dead’s privacy to me, but sure, girlfriend-of-a-few-months! Paw through all of his most intimate things while his body’s not even cold yet! God, is she gonna go through his underwear drawer too?

Is it weird that, for someone who clearly knows Gus better than anyone else —

I'm sure you've noticed that by now.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that by now.

— it never once occurs to her that, if he never gave this super-important work to her before he died, maybe that was because he didn’t want her to read it? I mean, he knew he wasn’t ever going to finish it, and probably assumed that she wouldn’t go through his computer, so the only reason I can think of that he didn’t just hand it to her, or tell her where it was, is because he wanted her to never find it.

Of course, this can’t be true, because that would make Hazel reprehensible and unable to contemplate her boyfriend’s wishes, let alone respect them. And we certainly can’t have that.

His computer was still on. I tapped the mouse to wake it up and then searched for his most recently edited files. Nothing in the last month.

Why is his computer still on? I mean, I guess computers don’t really need to be turned off, as far as energy is concerned, but it sounds like they were thinking of bringing it upstairs with them; wouldn’t they turn it off in preparation of that?

Okay, that’s a nitpick. I’m just grouchy because my Diabetes Cookie is getting cold. What else have you got for us, Green?

Nothing. There’s literally nothing on the computer.

I’m sure this is the end of the story, and in the next 2 chapters this tiny plot cul-de-sac won’t return in a way that’s supposed to make us cry, so in a fit of despair she decides to take a nap. In her dead boyfriend’s bed.

And then I crawled into his unmade bed, wrapping myself in his comforter like a cocoon, surrounding myself with his smell. I took out my cannula so I could smell better, breathing him in and breathing him out, the scent fading even as I lay there, my chest burning until I couldn’t distinguish among the pains.

Ignoring the eye-roll-ness of that last line, am I the only one who thinks there’s something a little, I don’t know . . . icky about that?

Ew

Do you think her parents ever wondered what she was doing down there? Did she close the door?

One of Gus’s sisters—I could not tell them apart

She loved him so much, guys. She wanted to learn all about him, and cared about everything and everyone he cared about. That’s how deep their love was.

The chapter ends on what I suppose is meant to be haunting and poignant:

I never quite caught his scent again.

Buy a can of Axe and rub some unlit cigarettes on it, sweetie. I’m sure that’ll help.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bury my pain in trans fats.

Only God can judge me.
This is what John Green does to people. Warn your loved ones.

P.S. That cookie really is delicious. I wish I could quit you, Pizza Hut.

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3 thoughts on “Cover to Cover: The Fault in Our Stars, Ch. 23

  1. The abrupt switch into script format is further evidence for my personal theory that this mess started out as a genuine capital-N Novel, but Green realized that genuine capital-N Novels rarely make much money or go on to produce much fame for the writer (until, you know, they’re dead) so rewrote the WHOLE THING complete with Twilight-style romance to appeal to the YA genre.

    This is why I hate him. Utilizing the tropes of your genre is fine; lampshading the tropes of your genre is fine; utilizing tried and true stereotypes to make a point is fine. SELLING OUT AND PANDERING IS WEAKSAUCE.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So, which do you think happened first: John Green found out about Antonietta Meo, and decided to give Gus her cancer and her amputation to make his character’s saintliness all the more explicit, or he picked the type of cancer first and found out about Antonietta Meo afterwards and decided use her story for the same reason?

    Follow-up question: which of those options is the more disgustingly narcissistic?

    Like

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