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Literature / That Was Then... This Is Now

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"You know what the crummiest feeling you can have is? To hate the person you love the best in the world."

Mark and Bryon are best friends, the closest thing to a brother either of them has ever had. Both are sixteen-year-old greasers— pool hustlers, hoods. Mark can get away with anything, and Bryon can lie about anything. They're the perfect team. Over the year that passes, they come to see just how rough life treats the poor kids like them. The owner of the bar where they hustle pool at is shot. An innocent guy gets beaten half to death. Drugs show their effect on a child once intelligent and sensitive. Worst of all, Mark has turned out to be a completely different person than Bryon had estimated him to be. Should Bryon turn in someone closer than a brother to him?

That Was Then, This Is Now is a 1971 coming-of-age novel by S. E. Hinton, the acclaimed author of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. The book gives a darkly realistic portrayal of greaser culture in 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma. A film adaptation was made in 1985, directed by Christopher Cain and starring Emilio Estevez (who also wrote the screenplay) as Mark and Craig Sheffer as Bryon.

Tropes used by the novel:

  • Be Careful What You Wish For: When Angela is drunk, she expresses a wish to cut off her prized long hair. The boys do exactly that to her as revenge when she's passed out.
  • The Cameo: As this book (and several more that followed) take place in the same setting as The Outsiders, not only Ponyboy makes a cameo in the book, so does Tim Shepard.
  • Chekhov's Gun: As we come to learn, Mark keeps a spare carton of cigarettes under his mattress. As Bryon comes to learn when trying to get it, it's also where Mark hides his pill bottle.
  • Coming of Age Story: By the end of the book, after everything he experienced (including Charlie dying defending him and Mark from those two Texans, M&M's violently negative reaction to LSD, and having to turn Mark over to the cops for dealing drugs), Bryon comes to realize that there's nothing he wouldn't give more for being able to make sense of life again:
    And to think, I used to be sure of things. Me, once I had all the answers. I wish I was a kid again, when I had all the answers.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: When it starts to click for Mark that Bryon was legitimately upset about him selling drugs, he begins pleading that he'll stop if it's bothering him so much. It almost makes you wonder what would've happened if Bryon held off on calling the cops.
  • Downer Ending: Bryon turns in Mark to the police. Mark goes to prison and become a sociopath due to being betrayed by the only person he loved. Bryon is left wondering if he did the right thing and where he's going to go from here.
    • It gets worse two books later on, in Tex: Mark breaks out of prison, hunts down Bryon, and shoots him... but doesn't kill him, mainly because the thought bored him; instead, he tries to force the titular character to drive him to the state line, only to wind up getting gunned down by the cops when he tries to flee.
  • Dramatic Irony: In the fourth chapter, we learn that the bartender of the bar/pool hall Bryon and Mark frequent, Charlie, had gotten his draft notice. One chapter later, he reveals that the military changed their mind upon discovering his police record. This is also the same chapter he dies.
  • Drugs Are Bad: If it wasn't painfully obvious, given how two major plot points involve Mark selling drugs in secret, and M&M having a violent reaction to LSD that even a doctor says he'll never fully recover from, that is one of the key messages of the book.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: After discovering the pill container under Mark's mattress, Bryon describes his reaction as a machine going off in his head, "[going] click, click, click[, until] it came up with an answer [he] didn't want."
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early on, Bryon says in his narration that Angela would look beautiful even with all her hair cut off—as Mark actually does later.
    • Mike's story of how he got sent to the hospital (due to being falsely accused of hurting an African American girl, Connie) has two key things of note attached to it: Mike admitting he harbors no hatred over what happened to him, mirroring how Bryon will decide against getting revenge on the Shepards after he gets assaulted in response to Mark cutting Angela's hair, and Mark's own reaction to the story mirrors how he will come to hate Bryon after he gets arrested:
      "Man, if anybody ever hurt me like that I'd hate them for the rest of my life."
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: As Mark saw it, him selling drugs was the best way he could get money to help out around the house, as his criminal record meant finding a legitimate job was unlikely, and he didn't even need to take them to sell them.
    Mark: Lookit, Bryon, they're going to get it from somebody if they want it, so why can't I make some money? I never forced it on anybody. I never tried to talk somebody into using drugs so I could make a buck.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Charlie dying in a shootout against two Texans that Bryon and Mark had hustled winds up being the driving force in Bryon's plotline, as it forces him to start growing up.
  • Lack of Empathy: Part of the reason Mark can get away with so much is because he does not care about anyone but Bryon. He completely disregards all authority and is unfeeling and unmoved by things happening.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Early on in the book, Bryon and Mark come across a boy their mother is friends with, Mike Chambers, in the hospital. As it happens, he was hanging out with a gang by a grocery store, when a black girl, Connie, went in to buy cigarettes. When they start harrassing and threatening her, Mike makes them back off, and offers her a ride home, even making a point of giving her a handkerchief when he sees she's crying. But upon dropping Connie off, a group of people who know Connie assume Mike had something to do with her crying, and pull him out of his car, and accuse him of hurting her. Mike tries to point out he didn't, but when Connie is asked her side of events, she does the following:
    "And real soft—her voice was so soft, just like her eyes—she said, 'Kill the white bastard.' And sure enough, they almost did."
  • Pervert Dad: Angela's husband's dad "slaps her bottom".
  • Sailor Earth: Tim and Curly Sheppard had appeared in The Outsiders, with no mention of a sister. Angela appears for the first time in this book.
  • Sharpdressed Man: Mark is said to always know what to wear even though he doesn't seem to care.
  • The Sociopath: It's implied at the end that this is what Mark became without Bryon's influence to keep him in check any longer.
  • The '60s: The novel takes place circa 1965-66.
  • Sweet Tooth: This is the reason why M&M is called "M&M":
    [H]e got his nickname from his addiction to M&M's, the kind of chocolate candy that melts in your hand and not in your hand.
  • Title Drop: The title is only said twice during the course of the book, but both instances set up a devastating Ironic Echo: When Bryon talks with Mark about how they've grown up since they stopped getting involved in gang fights, and when Mark makes it clear he hates Bryon after he got him sent to prison for drug dealing.
    "Like a friend once said to me, 'That was then, and this is now.'"
  • Trademark Favorite Food: M&M loves M&Ms, to the point where (per Byron's narration) he practically eats them nonstop, day after day.
    For years I'd never seen M&M without a bag of that candy. I don't know how he ate those things all day long, day after day. If I did that, my face would break out like nothing you've ever seen.
  • Tranquil Fury: Even though he realizes that it's not likely the pills Mark was selling were the same that caused M&M's LSD freakout, the second Bryon connects both in his head, the fact that drugs in general ruined M&M's life, it causes him to become "very cool" and call the cops on Mark.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Mark cuts all of Angela's curly long hair to the scalp off while she is passed out drunk.
  • Wham Line: Throughout the book, Mark has been earning money to help out around the house, but doesn't explain where he's getting it. Bryon winds up finding out the hard way towards the end of the book, when he tries to find some cigarettes:
    Then I remembered Mark's spare carton and rolled off the bed and reached under his mattress. I felt something strange and pulled it out. It was a long cylinder-like thing. I unscrewed one end and all these pills came rolling out.
  • What Could Have Been: invoked At the end of the book, after visiting Mark in prison, and realizing that his former friend, the closest thing he had to a brother, wants him dead, Bryon re-examines everything that had transpired over the course of the book, and gets hung up about wondering how things could've been different:
    What if I had found out about Mark some other time, when I wasn't half out of my mind with worry about Cathy? What if I hadn't met her in the first place, would I still have grown away from Mark? What if M&M had a good trip instead of a bad one? What if someone else had turned Mark in—would there still be hope for him?

Alternative Title(s): That Was Then This Is Now