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 January 24, 2011
You Remind Me of Me