on May 13, 2006
Looking at the other reviews here, I see that readers are either falling all over themselves or reacting very negatively to this book. Clearly, this is a novel that provokes strong feelings in people. So instead of gushing about the prose (which I do think is poetic and lovely) or railing on the characters (which are, for the most part, miserable... but some people like that kind of thing), I thought I'd try to identify some of the elements of this book that readers might find either enriching or problematic.
1) Structure - Dan Chaon is first and foremost a short story writer, and this comes through quite clearly in this book. Much like an Arriaga screenplay (21 Grams, Amores Perros) the chronology and cast of characters are fragmented and require a bit of piecing together in the beginning. In fact, I kept a timeline for the first ten chapters just to keep myself straight. While some people may enjoy this puzzle, others might find it gimmecky and unnecessary and not have the patience to continue reading.
2) Predominace of storytelling by way of characters' interior -
One reviewer I believe called this novel "claustrophobic", which I think is a pretty apt word. This is not a novel of plots and dialogues - most of the story is revealed through the memories and thoughts of a variety of characters. Very little happens directly in this novel, resulting in a sort of slowness, or lack of immediacy. Here again, some readers will savor this richness and pace, and others will find it aggrivating.
3) Tendancy toward melodrama and sentimentality - Remember the books in the first round of Oprah's book club (Jane Hamilton, Wally Lamb, etc.)? This book is ripe for this audience. This can be a very dark book, seemingly hopeless at times. But it is a perspective that many people find truth and redemption in. For others, this way of looking at the world is pessimistic and depressing.
All said and done, I did enjoy this book, and my book group had a very long and involved discussion about it. I can't say that I'm going to run out and buy the rest of Chaon's work, but I do give him credit for being a gifted and unconventional writer that seems to be resonating with many, many people.
For a book with similar themes, but a different edgier approach, try Eliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity.
This book was extraordinary...a book that revived my faith that the novel is here to stay. The theme -- in Chaon's own words: "How can you be alive when every choice you make breaks the world into a thousand filaments, each careless step branches into long tributaries of alternate lives, shuddeing outward and outward like sheer lightning."
That's solid writing by a master in control of the process. The novel is, ultimately, about choices and alternate lives: what would happen if you were born to a different mother? If you'd grown up in a different place? If you had some kind of proof that you were unlucky? These are questions that we all wrestle with at some point in our lives; Jonah more than most.
There is ample foreshadowing that "something is wrong with Jonah": his child demeanor, the way he deals with the dog Rosebud as an adult, his own lack of involvement at the time of his mother's death. It is inevitable, then, that his appearance in Troy's life will eventually create what appears to be a crisis.
Each character is carefully drawn, even the minor ones. I could picture each one -- the twitches, the yellowing sheets, the gnarled hands, and most of all, the scar which, of course, is symbolic of the schism that runs through Jonah's life.
I highly recommend this novel!
on June 30, 2005
A very touching book. So well written. I'm thoroughly impressed, as are many others, obviously. A few seem to want to slight this novel, but I can't help thinking they don't fully understand how difficult a book like this is to write. Chaon makes it look easy, really, and that's a trick of enormous skill. This novel could have seemed fragmented, but I don't think it does because each different time and location that he drops us into he creates completely. He grounds us on each page. Each line and scene is so complete that there is very little that's fuzzy or unclear about this. Complex, challenging, yes - but unclear or fuzzy, definitely not.
Some reviewers have complained about the characters, but I think that's another strength of the book. Chaon has such empathy and understanding for his characters that they're compelling despite their obvious flaws. Yes, their decisions can be pathetic and painful and damaging, but people make decisions like that. Just because it can be difficult to read at times doesn't mean we shouldn't examine such characters, the lives they lead and the decisions they make. Personally, I feel for them all. I'm glad to have this time with them. I've more compassion and interest in adoption, and more appreciation of the family I have around me. Altogether, I learned from this book and enjoyed the writer's skills on every page. I highly recommend it.
Dan Chaon writes beautiful prose, but it's more than just pretty words.
In his first novel, "You Remind Me of Me," he pierces to the heart his characters and makes the reader care about their fate.
"You Remind Me of Me" was one of those rare books I found literally impossible to put down. He introduces us in rotating chapters to a mother unable to forgive herself for having given up an illegitimate child and who can't love the child she has kept, the son who was given up for adoption and who is dealing with a multitude of his own problems, and the unloved son who strives to find his lost half-brother and, when he does, is unable to reveal himself except through gestures that raise only suspicion.
Chaon has a way of dealing with even minor characters that makes them stand out in the memory like someone you've actually met. And, the major characters - more often than not, you'll want to give them a swat on the head to wake them up and do what common sense dictates they should but never will.
It's a complex book about the delicate relationship between human beings and how easily those tenuous ties can create unimaginable tensions.
on March 5, 2005
Dan Chaon has a unique style that is both visual(I could see the movie playing in my head) and poetic(his use of words is beautiful). While I did not like most of the characters, I appreciate the complete sketch that Mr. Chaon paints of these characters' bleak lives. Troy Timmens is probably the fullest real character we see and in my opinion the most comprehensible. The book is midly disturbing and depressing, however, I recommend it for the beautiful and unique style and the griping story.
on June 29, 2005
Jonah's mother ignores him and yearns for the son she gave up for adoption before Jonah's own illegitimate birth. For all Jonah knows, his sibling is living a perfect life while their mother drinks and daydreams. His widowed grandfather tries to provide a normal life, but Jonah learns early that people naturally seem to dislike him.
When he is finally on his own, Jonah decides to look for his older brother in hopes of making some sort of connection that will bring peace to his troubled life. He makes a mess of it.
Instead of telling his brother the truth, he spies on him and pretends to be just another co-worker. Jonah finds that his brother's life has not been ideal, but it is not made better when he finds out that he has a strange younger brother.
This is the kind of quirky book that will have you reading well into the night and sneaking away to read during the day. Dan Chaon's story of familial dysfunction reminds us that we are all a little odd in one way or another. This writer's description of typical life through the eyes of an unstable man is masterfully handled in this terrific novel.
on June 6, 2004
Jonah was dead once. He is a six-year-old boy living with his grandfather and his mother, who tells him of the baby she put up for adoption before he was born. Elizabeth, an elderly Doberman trained by Jonah's grandfather to be a guard dog, also lives with them. Lonely Jonah, ignored by his depressed mother, adores Elizabeth. When he constantly plays with her, his grandfather says, "Quit pestering that damned dog! I hope she bites you someday." And then she does. Elizabeth bites off part of Jonah's ear. She savages his face, scalp and chest. She kills Jonah. The paramedics resuscitate him. The scars he bears forever symbolize internal wounds caused by his upbringing.
Around the time of Jonah's death and resurrection, ten-year-old Troy avoids his adopted parents' unhappy marriage by hanging out with his drug-dealing cousin and his pot-smoking teenage customers. Troy becomes a drug-dealer himself eventually, even after his wife leaves him with custody of his much-loved son, Loomis.
A scene from an earlier period reveals Nora as a lonely girl in a bleak unwed mothers' home: "It is not quite a prison, not quite a hospital." She does not want the baby --- at first. Her feelings reluctantly change, but it's too late. By the time she voices her wish to keep her son, he's been taken to his adoptive parents.
Moving back to the past and forward into the present, the reader learns the story of Jonah, Troy and Nora --- two boys and their mother. The stories give the reader the emotional underpinnings necessary to empathize with each character, and are brilliantly dovetailed together into one big meaty tale. Author Dan Chaon also pays loving tribute to Midwest prairie and small towns, making the setting a vital element to the story.
Each character is disconnected and yearns for someone. Nora has never recovered from the loss of her first son. That sorrow has twisted Nora's personality until she is mostly unable to give love to her second boy. Jonah obsesses about his older brother, the baby his mother gave up for adoption. He wonders about the hand he's been dealt. Who is better off --- the brother whose life was mauled by his despondent mother, or the one who escaped via adoption?
Jonah's longing to connect with his half-brother leads him to search for Troy. When Jonah finds him, Troy is in agony. After being arrested for dealing drugs, his son Loomis is in the custody of his grandmother, who won't allow Jonah to visit or speak with him. Troy is so painfully distracted by missing Loomis that he can't quite focus when Jonah approaches him as his brother. Inevitably, Jonah decides to act, hoping his drastic feat will somehow give him the family he's craving.
I highly recommend YOU REMIND ME OF ME as a gripping, good read. The plot is moving, and the prose is elegantly subtle. Occasionally, I was stunned by a beautifully wrought sentence, rereading it in admiration. Usually, though, I was simply and happily lost --- spellbound by a master storyteller.
--- Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon
on July 4, 2004
Chaon's been awarded acclaim and praise for his short story collections, but this, his first novel, will push him into an even higher realm. With gorgeous language, soaring metaphors, and utterly engaging characters (primarily a missing child, a pregnant teenager, and a disillusioned drug dealer), he weaves a rich and varied tapestry of memories, pain, and a search for redemption in a small Midwestern town. There are ghosts of haunted pasts that bring the characters, maimed both physically and spiritually, to the brink of irredeemable tragedy as their paths converge.
Constructed in the newly popular but not always successful technique of fragmentary flashbacks into times of an indeterminate past, You Remind Me of Me is sometimes confusing, always engaging, and forever memorable.
on July 24, 2005
Chaon's novel is a story of identity as revealed by Jonah and Troy, half brothers separated by adoption. Troy is placed for adoption, Jonah kept by their mother, both growing up in small Midwest towns. Troy wanders from the influence of his adoptive parents to that of his cousins, low-level drug dealers living in a trailer. Jonah wanders in his own way between his mother Nora and his grandfather, both running from the life they lead.
Eventually, Jonah arms himself with documentation of Troy's existence, and sets out to find him. Troy, separated from his son and wife by a series of his own bad choices, is left with his job at the Stumble Inn, his drug rehabilitation classes at the junior high, and the electronic monitoring ankle device that is part of his parole agreement. When Troy realizes that his co-worker Jonah is actually his half-brother, and that Jonah has lied to him about everything-from their biological connection to the kind of life Jonah lived with their mother-Troy experiences a kind of mirror-vision clarity about his own life. In a series of blundering moves, Jonah makes one final and nearly disastrous entry into Troy's life, setting in motion events that will settle one man's life and throw the other's into an orbit of despair.
Chaon's prose is dense, and at times annoyingly over-written. At the same time, he is able to endow a generally disparaged segment of American culture, the working, under-educated poor, with the dignity of their own being. Neither Troy nor Jonah has big dreams or even ambitions to have big dreams. They are surrounded by people who have settled for what they could grasp, unconcerned with great ambition or legacies beyond their families. They do not travel, or want to. They are grounded in a place where a man can become a prosperous community leader by owning three bars and a bowling alley. And yet, they have that dignity, and for Troy life turns out to be good enough. Sometimes that's all you can ask.
I struggled with this review because the story is fairly simple-but the relationships are not. Armchair Interviews says that if you like stories of complicated relationships you can really get into, give this book with an intriguing title a try.
on September 15, 2005
I so rarely come across a novel that is so addictive, so utterly stunning I had to give it 5 stars. I have literally been forcing myself not to plow through this book so I will be able to enjoy it for a longer time. I cannot praise Chaon enough. His ability to take you out of a room and transport you into this other world he has created is simply phenomenal. In addition, every sentence is a masterpiece. I've gone back just to reread passages in order to savor them like a rich dessert. This writing is gorgeous, magical and intoxicating. I highly recommend this book and cannot wait for his next.