Summary and book reviews of You Remind Me Of Me by Dan Chaon

You Remind Me Of Me

By Dan Chaon

You Remind Me Of Me
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  • Hardcover: May 2004,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2005,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

With his critically acclaimed Among the Missing and Fitting Ends, award-winning author Dan Chaon proved himself a master of the short story form. He is a writer, observes the Chicago Tribune, who can "convincingly squeeze whole lives into a mere twenty pages or so." Now Chaon marshals his notable talents in his much-anticipated debut novel.

You Remind Me of Me begins with a series of separate incidents: In 1977, a little boy is savagely attacked by his mother's pet Doberman; in 1997 another little boy disappears from his grandmother's backyard on a sunny summer morning; in 1966, a pregnant teenager admits herself to a maternity home, with the intention of giving her child up for adoption; in 1991, a young man drifts toward a career as a drug dealer, even as he hopes for something better. With penetrating insight and a deep devotion to his characters, Dan Chaon explores the secret connections that irrevocably link them. In the process he examines questions of identity, fate, and circumstance: Why do we become the people that we become? How do we end up stuck in lives that we never wanted? And can we change the course of what seems inevitable?

In language that is both unflinching and exquisite, Chaon moves deftly between the past and the present in the small-town prairie Midwest and shows us the extraordinary lives of "ordinary" people.

Chapter 1
March 24, 1977

Jonah was dead for a brief time before the paramedics brought him back to life. He never talks about it, but it's on his mind sometimes, and he finds himself thinking that maybe it's the central fact of the rest of his life, maybe it's what set his future into motion. He thinks of the fat cuckoo clock in his grandfather's living room, the hollow thump of weights and the dissonant guitar thrum of springs as the little door opened and the bird popped out; he thinks of his own heart, which was stopped when they got to him and then suddenly lurched forward, no one knew why, it just started again right around the time they were preparing to pronounce him deceased.

This was in late March 1977, in South Dakota, a few days after his sixth birthday.

If his memory were a movie, the camera would begin high in the air. In a movie, he thinks, you would see his grandfather's little house from above, you would see the yellow school bus ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why did Nora give up her first baby and not her second? In turn, how did each child pay the price of her decision?

  2. How do Jonah's scars influence his life the most?

  3. Why is Jonah so much more interested in the baby his mother gave up than Troy is about being adopted?

  4. How do you feel Jonah and Troy's lives would have been different if Nora had been honest with Wayne Hill, Troy's natural father, about being pregnant?

  5. How are Steve and Holiday, and Jonah important to each other? Why did their relationship end?

  6. Why couldn't Jonah recognize the circumstances he could change/influence so his fate would turn out differently?

  7. How would Jonah and Troy's lives been different if Jonah had been honest with ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Janet Maslin

You Remind Me of Me is the first novel by an author already established for mournful, eloquent short stories with a tone reminiscent of Russell Banks's. Mr. Chaon's stories have been about emotional ellipses in his characters' lonely lives. (His collection Among the Missing was a nominee for the National Book Award.) In the same manner the new book is a peculiarly haunting work, since it has as much to do with what is absent from its characters' stories as with what is present. So Jonah grows up to be an uneasy loner, and he clings to the sense that his life could have been different if one important loss had never occurred. He knows exactly what that loss is.

The Washington Post - Tom Perrotta

Yet Chaon has written an apparently claustrophobic novel that feels paradoxically large, generous and, ultimately, quite moving. This is thanks in no small part to his vivid, unadorned prose, which manages at once to be precise and dreamlike, as in this description of Troy's ex-wife: "Carla liked to sprawl. Her sleeping pose was like a cheerleader, frozen in mid-leap, like someone falling backward into water". Mainly, though, the book succeeds because it makes us feel its characters' pain and inhabit a world in which desperate measures often seem like the only ones available.

Kirkus Reviews

The symmetries and compensations here are a bit too tidy, and though his final vignette leaves the reader astonished once again, the larger satisfactions of mature plot-making remain elusive for this powerful, promising writer.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Chaon's finely crafted novel is cogent and suspenseful, but it remains mired in its magnetic, unrelentingly troubled characters, rarely offering anything that transcends its meticulously realistic portrayal of battered lives.

Library Journal - Christopher J Korenowsky

Readers who prefer expertly crafted plotting and strong characterization will be drawn to this novel. Highly recommended.

School Library Journal - Matthew L. Moffett

Adult/High School- A series of tightly interwoven flashbacks; deft handling of structure; and simple, precise language transform these characters' lives into a story that is highly readable, thought-provoking, and profoundly moving.

Publishers Weekly

Starred review. [A] piercingly poignant tale of fate, chance, and search for redemption.

Author Blurb Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Giant's House and Niagara Falls All Over Again
You Remind Me of Me is one of the strangest, most beautiful, most compelling books I've read in a long time. Unnerving and real, intricately plotted, wonderfully written, it's a Chinese box of a novel, full of hidden pleasures and surprises.

Author Blurb Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World
One of Dan Chaon's many gifts is his ability to probe deeply and delicately into sorrow. This gift serves him beautifully in You Remind Me of Me, a novel about adoption, about the quiet sadness that lies at the bottom of all his characters' troubles.

Author Blurb Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me and The Invisible Circus
Dan Chaon's beautiful, effortless prose commands the reader from sentence one, steering us from prickling unease to wrenching pathos, tunneling inside his characters' minds and worlds with such authority that everything else seems to disappear. It's almost frightening to be in the hands of so gifted a writer.

Author Blurb Peter Straub, author of lost boy lost girl
Beautiful, painful, and sure footed, You Remind Me of Me tracks the delicate connections between a handful of lost and poignant lives, in the process giving them the radiance of a stained-glass window. What a writer. Dan Chaon is going to have a breathtaking literary career.

Author Blurb Caroline Leavitt, author of Girls in Trouble
Dan Chaon's novel, You Remind Me of Me, is nothing short of brilliant. The novel is haunting me, and I can't stop thinking about it—both as a reader and as a deeply admiring writer. I wish I had a better adjective than superb.

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