Tuesday, May 01, 2012

You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

I don't find this novel's title or cover art particularly appealing.1 My familiarity with the author2 was the only reason I checked You or Someone Like You out to read on my Nook.

At the outset of Burr's roots as an author of nonfiction are clear. He begins with a three-page author's note,3 in which he explains exactly to what extent his fiction is fictional. I did read the author's note (I don't always) and it seemed like overkill to me. A result the author's discomfort with the medium? a mark of our litigious society? However, now that I've finished the novel, I see why he included the note. The entire novel revolves around something that happens to one of the characters. Because of the virulence this incident and its consequences provokes (in the characters and, possibly, in the novel's readers), it was important for the author to ground the event in reality, to affirm that it wasn't something he dreamed up simply to torture his characters.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about You or Someone Like You. I loved how literary it was. The novel is filled with books and references to authors and their various works and it made me want to reread some titles and tackle other authors for the first time. Burr makes some wonderfully astute observations about both literature and the human condition. He also incorporates a bevy of real-life characters (mostly film industry people) in walk-on roles. Some readers will love this aspect of You or Someone Like You, but it didn't do much for me considering that I didn't always recognize the individuals featured.

I do think, though, that Burr was a bit too focused on the moral of his story. Towards the end of You or Someone Like You Burr effectively mutes one of the key characters, allowing the righteous indignation of another to completely swamp the narrative. In doing this Burr is likely to alienate his readers as effectively as his protagonist alienates her acquaintances. There's also the moral itself, which some readers will appreciate and others will find impossible to tolerate.

You or Someone Like You would definitely make for an interesting book club discussion.
  1. Actually, I really don't like the cover. I find both the people pictured on it a bit unnerving
  2. I'd read and enjoyed The Perfect Scent (see post).
  3. He also includes source notes after the concluding chapter


  1. Chandler Burr cracks me up - but not in a good way! ;) Did you read his list of the smelliest cities?

  2. I haven't, but I'll have to go google it now.