What I’m Reading - March 2021
I haven’t been inside the walls of a bookstore since the pandemic, over a year now. It is, without a doubt, the longest I have gone in the last forty years. I miss it terribly. Every couple of weeks, for my entire adult life, I have felt the need to go to a bookstore and be in the presence of the printed word. I go because I simply need to be there. Usually I don’t have a particular book I am looking to purchase. I love browsing, literally walking among the books—fiction, nonfiction, literary journals—and coming across something unexpected, perhaps a new author that I have never read before, a novel just out on translation. Even if I don’t purchase anything, I get my fix.
Yes, occasionally I will buy something from Amazon, though I prefer independent bookstores. But browsing on the Internet does nothing for my itch.
So during the pandemic, I have turned to my bookshelves, rereading a number of novels that I last read many years ago. Rereading is an act of nostalgia. I remember where I was when I last read the book, what I thought of the work, and there is curiosity involved: how will my older self experience the rereading?
I just finished Dan Chaon’s excellent novel You Remind Me of Me, which was published in 2004. Chaon is a gifted storyteller. I’m finding it just as compelling as the first read, perhaps more so. It’s an intricately paced and plotted novel and, like Chaon’s superb short fiction, there is a gradual rising of tension, an undercurrent of unease. Chaon’s style is clearly literary but I doubt he gives much thought to genre. His work is unsettling, though his settings and characters are Middle America; there are elements of mystery, darkness, and, to a large degree, pathos. His characters have a habit of making poor choices, though Chaon’s empathy for his characters is unmistakable. But they give off a whiff of doom, as if they were enveloped in some malevolent vapor. Family is at the center of this remarkable narrative. What does family mean? Who can be considered family? What does it mean to be adopted? And what happens when you seek out family that are part of your past but you have never met?
Life, Chaon seems to be saying, is very fragile, and, in many cases, we have only so much control over it. Our parents, for example, the people who probably have the most influence over our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not always blessed when it comes to family. And it’s a burden that some have difficulty overcoming.