on 4 February 2007
This story rings so true. Among all the children adopted in the past, the vast majority must have ended up in very ordinary homes, mostly loved, of course, but probably no more loved than they would have been by the sad Noras who imagined that in yielding them up they were destining them for better lives than they could give them. Troy Timmens in this story was just such a child. His adoptive parents, while very loving and beloved by him have only an ordinary life to offer him. Mild drug abuse and divorce are a part of this life, and Troy grows to follow them in both. It is Jonah, the second-born, the child who was kept by Nora, who seems to have suffered the most, partly because of having been facially deformed following an attack by his grandfather's dog, and partly because of Nora's sadness and mental illness. Yet the author doesn't seem to be trying to show us that it is either the adopted person or the one who is kept who is happier, just that no matter what our backgrounds we are all subject to the same whims of fate. We cannot rise above our heritage if we don't have it within us to do so. Despite its content, this was not a heavy or sad book. The main characters are likeable and their thoughts and reactions are understandable in the light of what is revealed about them. Like the rest of us, they are blundering about in their lives, trying to do their best with what has been given them. I particularly liked the portrayal of Troy's young son, Loomis, who is a real person rather than a mere caricature of a child.
on 2 February 2007
Nora Doyle had two sons: Jonah and Troy. The latter she gave for adoption because she felt too young to raise a child. The novel is constructed like a jigsaw puzzle and the reader slowly becomes acquainted with the various characters. Nora the depressive and suicidal mother, Jonah the unlucky father who is caught in drug dealing and who is refused the custody of his son Loomis and Troy's long search for his lost brother with the help of The PeopleSearch Agency.
The characters are extremely well drawn and the author skilfully explores their emotional paths as they all fatally blotch every opportunity they are given. It seems that everything the characters attempt to achieve is doomed to fail. In this sense it is a remarkable novel about failure, oblivion and destruction by apparently everyday minor incidents. It is a claustrophobic tale in which there is not a single destiny which does not go awry. Quite an achievement when one considers that it is Dan Chaon's first novel.
on 14 September 2004
You Remind Me of Me is a tremendous achievement, and is easily one of the best books of 2004. With a smooth, accomplished narrative that flows beautifully and mellifluously across the page, Chaon presents a charming story of regret, self-knowledge, lost souls, and family. Moving elliptically through past and present, the narrative explores the lives all the main characters, moving forward and backward simultaneously. Focusing on character and theme, rather than plot, Chaon pieces together vignettes from multiple points of view across several decades into a rich narrative mosaic. The accumulation of illuminating detail is remarkable, and the shifts in time and point of view are handled with such care and understanding that reader is never confused or baffled by the story.
The story centers on three main characters, - Jonah, Troy, and Nora. Nora, a failed member of the Woodstock generation, is Jonah and Troy's biological mother, but she was forced to give Troy up for adoption in the early 1960's when she was committed to Mrs. Glass House, a home for pregnant, wayward girls. Five years later, she gives birth to Jonah, amid expectations of a lasting relationship. But her hopes of a lasting relationship are dashed, and she returns home with her son to South Dakota. The young Jonah is at home with his grandpa's Doberman when the dog turns on him, and the mauling leaves a nasty scar across Jonah's freckled face - a scar that comes to symbolize his sad childhood.
By the time he's 25, Jonah is already bitter, reclusive and resentful at his lot in life, so he decides to look for his long lost half-brother Troy. Troy Timmens is living with Loomis, his young son in St. Bonaventure, Nebraska. Jonah travels there and takes a job where Troy works as a bartender, a pub aptly called the Stumble Inn. Troy has just been busted for dealing drugs, and he is estranged from his junkie wife Carla who has run off to Vegas. There's lots going down in his life, and the arrival of Jonah is met with a kind of half-heartedness and skepticism.
Jonah, Nora and Troy were once "little babies unknowing and slowly reeling in the world, gathering it loop by loop like a ball of string." Cleverly using flashbacks, Chaon creates an intense world in which both Jonah and Troy seek the fulfillment of personal dreams, against the brittle hopes of better lives that have probably died before coming to fruition. They are obsessed with retrieving fragments of their past in order to make sense of the present and their future. Chaon paints a rich portrait of lives lived in trailer parks, orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, pubs, shopping malls and decaying small towns. And he never fails to take seriously and sympathetically each individual's attempt to carve out a meaningful identity. The dialogue sparkles, and the narrative quickly moves along in spite of the characters' haphazard and aimless lives. Chaon never takes advantage or condescends to his characters' shortcomings; he treats them with a warm, almost gentle affection as they struggle to do penance for their inadequacies and dysfunctions. Mike Leonard September 04.
on 8 November 2007
Chaon's YOU REMIND ME OF ME is a book off the beaten path. I came upon it by accident and have been trying to decide if it's one of my favorites or not. Hence the four star rating as I have not decided. Parts of it connected with me greatly, and parts didn't. I found some sections so real that I was scared by Dan Chaon's keen sense of self and place. But I also found parts lacking. Overall this is better than anything you'll see on the bestseller list. Not perfect, but close. I would recommend the novels MIDDLESEX by Eugenides and MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL to anyone who enjoys a great story told by great writers.