You Remind Me of Me

You Remind Me of Me

by Dan Chaon


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You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345441409
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/26/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.22(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.81(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of Fitting Ends and Among the Missing, a finalist for the National Book Award, which was also listed as one of the ten best books of the year by the American Library Association, Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as being cited as a New York Times Notable Book. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and won both Pushcart and O. Henry awards. Chaon teaches at Oberlin College and lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with his wife and two sons.

Read an Excerpt

You Remind Me of Me

By Dan Chaon

Random House

Copyright (C) 2004 by Dan Chaon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345441419

Chapter One


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 coming to a stop at the edge of the long gravel road. Jonah had been to school that day. He had learned something, perhaps several things, and he rode home in a school bus. There were papers in his canvas knapsack, handwriting and addition and subtraction tables that the teacher had graded neatly with red ink, and a picture of an Easter egg that he’d colored for his mother. He sat on a green vinyl seat near the front of the bus and didn’t even notice that the bus had stopped because he was deeply interested in a hole that someone had cut in the seat with a pocketknife; he was peering into it, into the guts of the seat, which were made of metal springs and stiff white hay.

Outside it was fairly sunny, and the snow had mostly melted. The exhaust from the bus’s muffler drifted through the flashing warning lights, and the silent bus driver lady caused the doors to fold open for him. He didn’t like the other children on the bus, and he felt that they didn’t like him either. He could sense their faces, staring, as he went down the bus steps and stood on the soft, muddy berm.

But in the movie you wouldn’t see that. In the movie you would only see him emerging from the bus, a boy running with his backpack dragging through the wet gravel, a red stocking cap, a worn blue ski jacket, stones grinding together beneath his boots, a pleasantly rhythmic noise he was making. And you would be up above everything like a bird, the long gravel road that led from the mailbox to the house, the weeds along the ditches, the telephone poles, barbed-wire fences, railroad tracks. The horizon, the wide plain of dust and wind.

Jonah’s grandfather’s house was a few miles outside of the small town of Little Bow, where Jonah went to school. It was a narrow, mustard-colored farmhouse with a cottonwood beside it and a spindly chokecherry bush in front. These were the only trees in view, and his grandfather’s place was the only house. From time to time a train would pass by on the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the house. Then the windows would hum like the tuning fork their teacher had shown them in school. This is how sound feels, their teacher said, and let them hold their fingers near the vibrating tines.

Sometimes it seemed to Jonah that everything was very small. In the center of his grandfather’s bare backyard, an empty pint of cream would be the house and a line of matchbook cars, Scotch-taped end to end, would be the train. He didn’t know why he liked the game so much, but he remembered playing it over and over, imagining himself and his mother and his grandfather and his grandfather’s dog, Elizabeth, all of them inside the little pint container, and himself (another part of himself) leaning over them like a giant or a thundercloud, pushing his makeshift train slowly past.

He didn’t call to his grandfather when he came into the house that day. The door banged shut, the furniture sat silently. He could hear the television talking in his grandfather’s room, so he knew his grandfather was there, dozing in the little windowless room, an addition to the house, just space enough for his grandfather’s bed and a dresser, a small TV and a lamp with curlicues of cigarette smoke around them. His grandfather was propped up against some pillows, drinking beer; an old blanket, pilled cotton, silk edges unraveling, was thrown across his grandfather’s middle, an ashtray balanced on it. Tired. His grandfather worked as a janitor, he went to work early in the morning, while it was still dark. Sometimes when Jonah came home from school, his grandfather would come out of his room and tell Jonah stories or jokes, or he would complain about things, about being tired, about Jonah’s mother—What’s the problem with her now? Did you do something to get her mad? I didn’t do anything to her!—and he would swear about people that he didn’t like, people who had cheated him, or maybe he would smile and call Elizabeth to him, Babygirl, babygirl, what are you doing there, does a babygirl want a piece of lunch meat does she? and Elizabeth would come clicking her nails across the floor, her bobbed tail almost vibrating as she wagged it, her eyes full of love as Jonah’s grandfather crooned to her.

But Jonah’s grandfather didn’t come out of his room that day, and Jonah dropped his bookbag to the floor of the kitchen. There was the smell of smoke, and fried eggs, and the old food in the refrigerator. Unwashed dishes in the sink. His grandfather’s door was half-closed, and Jonah sat at the kitchen table for a time, eating cereal.

His mother was at work. He didn’t know whether he missed her or not, but he thought of her as he sat there in the still kitchen. She worked at a place called Harmony Farm, packing eggs, she said, and the tone of her voice made him imagine dark labyrinths with rows of nests, a promenade of sad, dirty workers moving slowly through the passageways.

She wouldn’t talk about it when she got home. Often, she wouldn’t want to talk at all, wouldn’t want to be touched, would make their supper, which she herself wouldn’t eat. She would go to her room and listen to old records she’d had since she was in junior high, her eyes open and her hands in a praying shape beneath her cheek, her long hair spread out behind her on the pillow.

He could stand there for a very long time, watching her from the edge of the doorway and she wouldn’t move. The needle of the phonograph pulsed like a smooth car along the spiraling track of a record album and her eyes seemed to register the music more than anything else, her blinking coinciding with a pause or a beat.

But he knew that she could see him standing there. They were looking at each other, and it was a sort of game—to try to blink when she blinked, to set his mouth in the same shape as her mouth, to hear what she was hearing. It was a sort of game to see how far he could inch into the room, sliding his feet the way a leaf opens, and sometimes he was almost to the center of the room before she finally spoke.

Get out, she would say, almost dreamily.

And then she would turn her face away from him, toward the wall.

He thought of her as his spoon hovered over his cereal. One day, he thought, she wouldn’t come home from work. Or she might disappear in the night. He had awakened a few times: footsteps on the stairs, in the kitchen, the back door opening. From the upstairs window he saw her forcing her arm into the sleeve of her coat as she walked down the driveway. Her face was strange in the pale brightness cast by the floodlights that his grandfather had installed outside the house. Her breath lifted up out of her in the cold and drifted like mist, trailing behind her as she moved into the darkness beyond the circle of porch light.

We won’t be staying long, she would tell Jonah sometimes. She would talk about the places where they used to live as if they’d just come to Jonah’s grandfather’s house for a visit, even though they’d been living there for as long as he could remember—almost three years. He didn’t remember much about the other places she talked about. Chicago. Denver. Fresno. Had he been to these cities? He wasn’t sure. Sometimes things came in flashes and images, not really memories at all—a staircase leading down, with muddy boots outside of it; a man with a fringed jacket like Davy Crockett, asleep on a couch while Jonah looked inside his open mouth; a lamp with autumn leaves patterned on it; a cement shower stall where he and his mother had washed together. Sometimes he thought he remembered the other baby, the one that had been born before him. I was very young, she told him. That was all she would tell. I was very young. I had to give it away.

I remember the baby, he said once, when they were sitting together talking, when she was feeling friendly, holding him in her arms, running her fingernails lightly back and forth across his cheek. I remember the baby, he said, and her face grew stiff. She took her hand away.

No, you don’t, she said. Don’t be stupid. You weren’t even born yet. She sat there for a moment, regarding him, and then she shut her eyes, her teeth tightening against one another as if the sight of him hurt her. Jesus Christ, she said. Why don’t you just forget I ever told you anything. I mean, I confide in you with something that’s very private, and very important, and you want to play little pretend games? Are you a baby?

She sat there coldly, frowning, and began to gather and arrange her hair, ignoring him. She had long hair that reached almost to the belt-loops of her jeans. His grandfather said she looked like the country singer Crystal Gayle. Don’t you think she looks pretty, Jonah? his grandfather would say when he was trying to cheer her up, but she would only smile a little, not really happy. He watched as she shook a cigarette from her pack on the coffee table and lit it.

Don’t look at me that way, she said. She took a sip of smoke from her cigarette, and he tried to make his expression settled and neutral, to make his face the way she might want it to be.

Mom? he said.


Where do babies go when you give them away? He wanted to make his voice sound innocent, to talk in the way a child on television might ask about Santa Claus. He wanted to pretend to be a certain type of child, to see if she might believe in it.

But she didn’t. Where do babies go when you give them away? she repeated, in a high, insipid voice, and she didn’t look at him, she didn’t think he was cute or forgivable. He watched the rustle of her long hair, her hand as she ran the head of her cigarette against the rim of the ashtray.

They go to live with nice mommies, she said. After a moment she’d shrugged darkly, not liking him anymore, not wanting to talk.

But he did remember the baby, he thought. He and his mother had seen it at the market, being watched by a lady he didn’t know. The baby was pink-skinned, and had a tiny head without hair on it and it was inside something—a basket, he thought, a basket like apples came in at the grocery store. The baby was dressed in a green velvet suit with a Santa’s head on it, and rested on a red cushion. It moved its hands blindly, as if trying to catch air. Look, his mother said. There’s my baby! And a lady had looked at them, stiffening as his mother bent down to wave her fingers over the baby’s line of vision. The lady had looked at them, smiling but also frightened, and she had spoken to Jonah sharply.

Please don’t touch, the lady said. Your hands are dirty.

He remembered this vividly—not only because of the baby but because of the lady’s eyes, the way she looked at him, the sharp sound of her voice. It was the first time he really understood that there was something about him that people didn’t like.

Excerpted from You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Jennifer Egan

From the 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."

Peter Straub

From the 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."

Jane Hamilton

From the 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."

Caroline Leavitt

From the 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."

Elizabeth McCracken

From the 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."

Reading Group Guide

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 Troy about their connection when they first met?

8. Why do you think Jonah didn’t tell Troy the truth about Nora’s life and personality when they first meet? Would this have changed the relationship between Troy and Jonah?

9. At what point did you recognize that Jonah has seriously broken with reality?

10. What is the significance of names in this novel? Why do you think the author chose each name?

The Mrs. Glass House
Gary Gray
Mrs. Keene
Lisa Fixx
St. Bonaventure

Customer Reviews

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You Remind Me of Me 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
suhughes More than 1 year ago
I loved this book from the very first page! Excellent read
tchrreader More than 1 year ago
I like this book. It was a bunch of stories all separate that come together. It is entertaining to see how everyone in the book connects in some way. This book is a series of different events and incidents. A boy is attacked by a dog, a boy disappears from his grandmother's home, a pregnant teen admits herself into a maternity home. This book is interesting- everyone connects and the stories end up interweaving which makes it fun and you think how your life might touch others too.
JessLucy More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up in the "Staff Recommended" section at my local library and am so glad I did! This was a well-written, engaging story and I look forward to reading more books by this author. One of the opening scenes has stayed with me: the protagonist and his family dog, Elizabeth the Doberman. I was surprised throughout by how much I liked this writer's style. A very touching story. You may also enjoy: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the novels of Morag Joss, anything by Barbara Vine(especially A Fatal Inversion, A Dark-Adapted Eye, the Brimstone Wedding and Anna's Book), and anything by Ruth Rendell (especially End in Tears).
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the initial chapters I wasn't sure about the author's style of jumping back and forth across timelines and seemingly unrelated characters. In the end that narration style was the high-point of this book. I loved the fact that each of the characters were at the outset simple, one-dimensional....but as you got to know them the complexities of their situations made them real and endearing. He has also done due justice to every single one of the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was immediately drawn in by the book's title and cover photo, both oddly compelling. The author's intense, descriptive writing grabs the reader by his neck hairs, but you will not want to let go. Such an interesting array of characters and an intricate weaving of lives, like a big dish of 'heart and soul' served right to your kitchen table. Dan Chaon has a wonderful ability to convey the deepest of thoughts and emotions in the fewest of words. A sad, reflective, and weirdly funny novel, simple but profound. I will be hard pressed to forget Troy, Jonah and Loomis anytime soon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i was in B&N and i wanted to find a new book. i picked this up and sat down and started reading. I could not stop. i read about 60 pages in the store and i immediatly purchased the book and went home to read some more. I could not put it down. It was one of the most interesting and calm stories i have ever read. the characters are so real. you believe every action and every word.'You Remind Me of Me' is a fantastic story. i think anyone that enjoys to read would truly love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I took a chance on this book as I'd only read one short story of Dan Chaon's before (in The O'Henry Prize Stories). I couldn't put this book down. Brilliantly written, so in touch with humanity, all of its beauty and darkness. The best book I've read this year (and I've read a lot). Do yourself a favor and read this fine piece of literature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everything promised in Dan Chaon's short stories in the cherished AMONG THE MISSING collection comes to full fruition in this incandescent novel YOU REMIND ME OF ME. Without question Dan Chaon is emerging as one of the more important writers of the 21st Century, so gifted is he at creating unique characters and then guiding them through the crusty terrain of the earth in search of the meaning of existence. He is a consummate storyteller, a master of the English language, and a social observer along the lines of the greatest thinking writers of the last century. YOU REMIND ME OF ME, significantly distilled, is the story of two men who share the same biological mother Nora, a woman so fragile that at age 16 she gives the first born son (Troy) for adoption, never marries, keeps her next son (Jonah) born four years later, only to descend into mental illness and guilt of her actions with her first born son and the disaster of her second born being mauled to death by her dog, reviving as though resurrected to a life of physical distortion and loneliness. Thus separated by Nora's decisions, the two boys grow into adulthood without significant direction: Jonah fears relationships because of his physical scarring creating a self concept of appearing a beast and spends his youth as a loner, while Troy's adoptive parents disintegrate, allowing him to bond with a young couple who introduce him to the life of drugs, and his downward swirl ends in a life as a bartender, divorced from a junkie wife and left with a son (Loomis). Jonah longs for the 'brother' he never knew and after Nora's suicide he strikes out to find his only blood relative. All of this happens on the plains of middle America - St. Bonaventure, Nebraska and Little Bow, South Dakota - and Dan Chaon knows these vast stretches of lonely terrain and the isolation of small prairie towns well. He uses the places like a stretched sheet over a morgue bench to dissect the fragile lives of his characters and the folk who populate these spaces. It seems as though reducing the matrix of the novel to such places erases the distractions of life so that he can meditate on the important things. 'The true terror, Jonah thought, the true mystery of life was not that we all are going to die, but that we were all born, that we were all once little babies like this, unknowing and slowly reeling in the world, gathering it loop by loop like a ball of string. The true terror was that we once didn't exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to.' And the thoughts come not only from the young men but from the life experiences of the elderly, such as Judy - the grandmother of Troy's son Loomis: ' She is aware of herself dividing. There is a reasonable self, floating above her perception, a practical mind that observes the sensual organism. She is aware of herself as muscle and fat wrapped in a damp skin, aware of herself as a dry, yellow-tasting tongue, aware of the matrix of sounds that spreads out from the center point of her body, the interstate of blood moving, the grasping tendrils of the spirit, seeking purchase.' The story progresses to Jonah's finding Troy, desperately seeking connection to someone, finding that connection through distorted lies about his life that promise a bond with Troy, and the manner in which the earlier referenced 'baby' (Loomis) provides that bond is the odd resolution of this engrossing tale. Jonah's desperate need to connect with Troy finds words from a inebriate mouth: 'People seem to think it's all either nature or nurture, or some combination, but you know what? I think it's even worse than that. It's all...random. It's all chaos and luck and whether you're like...stupid and cowlike, like YOU, or else you have some inkling of how deluded it all is.' These searchings for meaning close the book in a flashback to the time when Nora was in labor with Jonah: 'It's hard to believe that this is how it's done. That this is how we get here into the world, by
Guest More than 1 year ago
I fell in love with this book from the beginning, and it surprised me almost at every turn, despite the obvious mythical connotations (and foretellings) of the characters' names (Johah and Troy). I haven't read Dan Chaon's stories yet, but I will now. YOU REMIND ME OF ME actually reminded me of me, of my own family, and it reminded me of A SECRET WORD, a novel I read not long ago by another first-time novelist, Jennifer Paddock, who covers the very similar territory of lost or searching lives. For what it's worth, I recommend both.
Griff on LibraryThing 5 days ago
An unsettling book. A difficult reminder of how dysfunctional some families can be.
mzonderm on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This book reminded me a lot of The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton, probably because they both take place in small towns, and they're both pretty depressing and about dysfunctional families. This book jumps back and forth in time, showing how the various characters are related (literally) and Chaon does a good job of bringing together the various storylines into an interesting, if not altogether unpredictable, denouement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never thought that their lives would end the way they did. I was able to experience their situations as if I knew them personaly. It left me wanting more!
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Creepy in the best kind of way.
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This book made me fall in love i love this book you need to get it.
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Zoe Everettt More than 1 year ago
This book had me at page 1! Very well written, very good:)
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