Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > You Remind Me of Me

You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon
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's review
Sep 27, 2007

it was ok
bookshelves: book-club, 2007, fiction, not-worth-it
Read in February, 2007

I have to say, right off the bat, that I have never skimmed bits as much as I did in this book. I usually like to read every single word, but I got so impatient with this that I kinda skipped a sentence here, skimmed a paragraph there, all in the hope of reaching the end faster.

And not because I felt like I was running out of time because I had a bookclub meeting for it. It was simply due to a small amount of boredom and a nagging impatience with the characters.

Jonah lives with his mother, Nora, his grandfather and the pet Doberman, Elizabeth, in a small rural town called Little Bow. He's a lonely, clingy kid, whose mother was forced to give away her first "fatherless" baby and is now slipping further and further into depression, drugs and resentment.

The book starts here, on the day when Jonah is attacked by Elizabeth, who he was playing a make-believe game with which involved locking them in the bathroom and hiding in the tub. When the long-suffering dog freaks out, she mauls him almost to death.

The scene where Jonah is rescued by his grandfather includes a brief description about what happened to Elizabeth: "He hears the sound of his grandfather's raw, smoker-voiced moaning. His grandfather caught Elizabeth by the collar, pulling her away, and then his grandfather began to kick her in the ribs and the head." (p.14)

This is one of the most traumatic and upsetting things I think I've ever read. People talk about how hard it was to read Susie Salmon's rape and murder at the beginning of The Lovely Bones, but for me, what happened to Elizabeth was so much more upsetting.

This scene sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which is not in chronological order, as it follows the twined stories of Nora, Jonah, Troy - the baby Nora gave up for adoption - and, to a lesser extent, Troy's mother-in-law, Judy, and his son, Loomis.

Jonah, with his disfiguring scars, is a shy, nervous, sad kid who sets out to find his half-brother. He yearns for a normal family, for a sibling and, in a heavy-handed way, the author posits the idea that Jonah is hoping Troy's life will be everything his wasn't and isn't, to prove that Jonah's miserable existence is not his own fault.

But Troy, a petty drug-dealer raising his little boy - nicknamed "Little Man" of all things - alone, has been arrested and is now under house arrest. His mother-in-law, Judy, is looking after Loomis and trying to get custody as well.

Troy works as a bartender in the small town of St. Bonaventure in Nebraska, and when Jonah turns up and worms his way into Troy's life, I half expected a Talented Mr Ripley deal to go down. It didn't, but it didn't go in any other direction, either. The characters are, to be frank, losers, and are so bogged down in their own character flaws that I wanted to wring their necks. I certainly had trouble spending any time with them, and the jumping back and forth in time confused me a hell of a lot more than The Time Traveler's Wife did! Which is kinda ironic.

This being the author's debut novel, having written only short stories before, it definitely has a short-story feel to it. It's chopped up and broken down a great deal. It also has a tell, not show, narrative which I found annoying. There are some nice descriptions, and the present-tense works quite well, but with its anti-climax and meandering, the suspense built up by the non-linear narrative is ruined.

I know I'm being harsh on this book. It's an ambitious debut, but not quite executed. I found the writing style hard to get into, and the order of events confusing. Nora was the most interesting character, in terms of her time at the Mrs Glass House - my own mother went to a similar place, though her story has a happy ending - but Nora too was irritating beyond belief. Someone should have slapped the silly girl!

Told you I was annoyed.

I could go on, but there's little point. I will always remember this story for poor Elizabeth, but since her story is brief and finished with in chapter 1, the rest was just an exercise in perseverance.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Dina Wow! Talk about taking the words out of my mouth!! Excellent summation of the book, Shannon. I couldn't agree with you more. I only wish I had read your critique BEFORE I wasted 2 days of my life reading this book.

Judith You know, you're right----there is something about the combination of the poor boy being mauled and the poor dog being kicked to death that make this scene a double whammy--not to mention the poor grandfather. A triangle of the 3 most pathetic characters in the worst circumstances in the world. It really was worse than The Lovely Bones.

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