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12th January
2011
written by Steph

First read of 2011

I feel like I’m in a bit of a reviewing slump. I’m picking up tons of great books but I’m not sure what to say about any of them. I’ve often said it can be harder to write something meaningful about books that really astound me and I think this might be an example of that very thing. As you know, 2011 is my year of reading from my own shelves, so I figured the best way to kick things off would be to pick up the book that has possibly lingered on those shelves for the longest. I think I’ve owned You Remind Me of Me for at least five years, though it certainly feels like longer. I remember picking it up in hardback off of a remainder table at the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, and I’m sure the sticker proclaiming it “seulement $9.99” was a large incentive (weird factoid about me: when I buy books that have price stickers on them, I NEVER remove these stickers until I’ve finished reading the book… I have no idea why this is the case, but without fail I always do this… hence how I still know how much I paid for this book…). I’m sure the premise of intermixed storylines of seemingly unrelated characters that eventually unite into a meaningful and breathtaking whole played some part, but dollars to donuts it was the price that really sealed the deal for me. I think the real question is why the heck it took me so long to read this book! Now many of you know I love me a book that takes different and discrepant narrators at the start and gradually entwines them, so I had high hopes going in. Adding to the expectations was all the great stuff I’d heard of Chaon’s most recent novel, Await Your Reply, which I actually have as well, so I was really hoping this would be good. And it was! But initially, I admit I had some reservations. The writing was immediately arresting and Chaon picks some very salient images that really struck me quite hard somewhere around the solar plexus area so on that front we were all good. But my issue, ironically, came from the narration style. I couldn’t figure out why Chaon had decided to make use of a style that jumps around between past and present and various people, because so often the story seemed to progress in a linear fashion and it seemed like maybe this was a bit gimmicky. But, I am happy to report that it actually works very beautifully in the end, and the last segment is so poignant and I daresay perfect that any reservations I had completely vanished. That, my friends, is what you call a killer ending. A denouement so good, all previous flaws are erased or, at the very least, forgiven. I could give a little rundown on the plot or premise of the book, but that’s really my least favorite thing to write about… great books are always about so much more than what happens, am I right? This is a book that’s all about connections between people, and even more importantly, our sense of feeling connected to others. It’s about figuring out who you will be as possibilities slowly fall away and the forks in the road blur so that eventually you are stuck moving down one path. It was a quiet novel that had teeth. I often found it unsettling and eerie, perhaps in large part because I did not fully understand one of its protagonists, Jonah… I just found him so creepy, which I think was Chaon’s intention, but this may have been magnified simply because I found him so inscrutable (not to mention the fact that he does some wildly odd and creepy things!). This was one of those stealthy novels that creeps up on you. You think you’re indifferent to it, until you find yourself lying in bed late at night, unable to sleep because you’re so wrapped up in thinking about the characters, even after you’ve turned the final page. A really strong novel to kick off the year with, and I’m now super excited to read Await Your Reply! Rating: 3.5 out of 5

16 Comments

  1. I used to get a lot of books because of the price sticker alone. I am a sucker for anything on sale. Now that I read so many blogs I hardly buy randomly anymore, which sort of makes me sad.

    Anyway, glad you liked this one — it sounds really good. I love books that sneak up on you.

  2. 01/13/2011

    “Great books are always about so much more that what happens, am I right?”. Absolutely right! I really should follow your lead and focus on my shelves, but we’re not even two weeks into the new year and I’ve already gone a little crazy with the acquisitions.

  3. 01/13/2011

    I read this for my bookclub and none of us were impressed by it. I’m trying to remember any particular part, but the only thing that come is a hazy memory about a conversation at the kitchen table (am I confusing it with some other story?).

    I take the stickers out straight away but always re-glue them on the back page, sort of a souvenir.

  4. 01/13/2011

    I have this book on my shelf, and like your copy, it has lingered there for many years. I am not even sure why I picked it up, as it’s a book that I don’t often hear discussed. I am glad to hear that it’s a tight read though, even if it does flop back and forth in time. I do want to read this soon, and hope that I have the same reaction to it that you did!

  5. 01/13/2011

    @ Kim: Yeah, now that I’m in Nashville where there’s a great used bookstore, $9.99 no longer looks like such a great deal – I can snag hard covered for under $5 easily! And since 2005, my book collection has grown exponentially so there’s really no reason for me to just randomly pick up books because of their price any more.
     
    @ Nymeth: Writing up synopses of books is always my least favorite part of writing! I always feel like everything else is WAY more interesting!
     
    @ Alex: I recall seeing you only gave this a “meh” rating on GoodReads… There was indeed a conversation at the kitchen table in it, so you are not confusing it with something else. I think this is just one of those books that you have to have patience with and perhaps all of you were fed up by the time it really gets good?
     
    @ zibilee: What is it about this book?!? I’m so glad that I did finally read it and it makes me excited to read more things by the author. I hope you like it too!

  6. 01/13/2011

    Steph, I know what you mean about giving a rundown of the plot – that is my least favorite thing to do, too! Its why I just cut and paste the blurb from the back of the book. I just feel like sometimes a book is just so good that by reiterating what happened point by point, you lose the meaning and flow of the story, because a great book makes you feel and sometimes that is what makes the impression on you, not just the storyline. I think that is why I feel like my reviews are bit disjointed – I want to provide info for those who haven’t heard of the book and yet I just want to dive into what I felt the book meant to me. So, I have to say I enjoyed your post. And I loved your descriptions, like, “It was a quiet novel that had teeth”. Thanks for the great review!

  7. 01/13/2011

    Wonderful review, Steph! I loved your description – “It’s about figuring out who you will be as possibilities slowly fall away and the forks in the road blur so that eventually you are stuck moving down one path” – very beautiful!

    I loved the title and the cover – so interesting!

    Hope you enjoy ‘Await your Reply’.

  8. 01/14/2011

    I’ve heard of Chaon, but this is the first time I’ve thought seriously about reading him. The book sounds really good!

  9. Pam
    01/14/2011

    Oh man, this sounds like my perfect book. I love books that take on more than just plot and people.

  10. 01/17/2011

    @ Nadia: Yes, it can be hard to find the balance between giving enough information vs. sounding like a book report. I figure that a quick rundown of plot is enough to give someone a general sense of whether the topics explored in the book interest them, but I so rarely read a book just to know what happens that I have low tolerance for synopses.
     
    @ Vishy: I’m really looking forward to Await Your Reply! I’ve only heard good things about it so my expectations are high!
    @ Dorothy: I feel like Chaon is an author who people buzz about a lot whenever he has a new book out, but then he quietly fades into the background after a few months. A shame, because more people should get excited about his books!
     
    @ Pam: This is definitely about way more than just plot and people! To sit here and say “here’s what happened” would miss out on 75% of what this novel is really trying to do!
     
    @ Lenore: I could see how this would be so much fun to discuss with others. There are a lot of open-ended questions that it raises, so it would be great to be able to see what others make of it.
     
    @ kay: Yes, multiple narrators are definitely one of my literary vices. I love stories that start off separate and then gradually merge.

  11. […] not what this post is about. Last week, Steph (Steph & Tony Investigate) posted a review of You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chanon. In the review, she included this story about how she came to buy the book: As you know, 2011 is my […]

  12. 01/16/2011

    I got You Remind Me of Me at as remainder too – at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I read it years ago and enjoyed it. Last year, our book club read Await Your Reply and I enjoyed it even more.

  13. kay
    01/16/2011

    I love books that take different narrators and entwine them along the story, too. I would give this one a try, though I really need to make smaller the impossibly high TBR pile!

  14. […] You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chanon, a book Steph eloquently described as being about “figuring out who you will be as possibilities slowly fall away and the forks in the road blur so that eventually you are stuck moving down one path.” That sounds lovely. […]

  15. 01/17/2011

    When a book has you up late at night thinking about it’s characters, you know it has you! Based on that alone I will add this to my list.

  16. 01/17/2011

    I absolutely agree that great books are about so much more than the words on the page and what happens. Sometimes I really think that certain books have just this AURA about them and create an entire little bubble world in which you live while reading. But then I must be wrong as people’s bubbles might all be different and some people never experience the bubble at all, even if YOU think it is there.

    Well, I got very caught up in a very poor metaphor there.

    In any case, I absolutely agree with your point. I have never read anything by Dan Chaon, but I would at least read the plot insert on this book based on the cover alone.

    Also, what if the price sticker SAYS it cost $9.99, but on a sign on the table where you got the book it said, “Take an additional 20% off lowest price”? Then you would go through life thinking you paid $10 for the book when really, you paid $8. Travesty.

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