“You or someone like you” is the first novel by author Chandler Burr, whose literary feats heretofore include the odd book about scent and the hilarious job of being a ‘scent critic’ for the New York Style Magazine. Granted, I’m not sure how prestigious a job that is, for all I know he could be making the small to medium bucks doing it, it just makes me chuckle to myself.
Job description hilarity aside, this is a tremendous first effort. Parts of it could, perhaps, have benefited from a little Darwin-esque natural selection, but overall it is a definite page-turner. The protagonist is a British woman named Anne. We are made very aware of her ‘Britishness’ and how she finds it hard to adjust into the Hollywood lifestyle, confirming stereotypes of the legendary Brit aloofness. I found myself admiring her spunk; even though she insists throughout, how uncomfortable she is with public speaking, she seems to take no prisoners when the situation calls for someone to act as the voice of the crowd.
Okay, back story time – Anne is married to Howard, a guy she met at school. They’re both eng lit. Majors and seem to suffer from eidetic memory where they can rote word for word almost anything they’ve ever read. I haven’t read even half the books we’re made to believe these people have, and I have no more than vague recollections of the gist of what a book was about, if that, just saying a little more realism would’ve been nice, am I right people?
They have a son named Sam, the best-looking boy in the world, and their lives revolve around him. Howard is a Hollywood executive and knows all the movers and shakers of tinsel town. Also, he’s Jewish, and Anne’s non-Jewishness has been cause for a lot of strife in Sam’s paternal side of the family.
Doloreans in hand (booyah! Back to the future reference!), the book operates on a time loop between the present and several occasions in the past. We open to a major catastrophe that has planted itself in the center of our protagonist’s life, it has something to do with Sam, and it’s causing her and Howard to grow apart. The big reveal comes much later, when she stops acting like a schizoid, going back and forth and finally reveals what the devil is going on.
A spur of the moment recommendation of must-reads to a friend, snowballs into several book clubs that Hollywood types are bending backwards to get into, soon she’s suggesting books to turn into movies and donning the cap of executive producer on several projects. I loved the literary references, excerpts from books and poems that she uses to get her message across, whether to her estranged husband, pissed off friends or conniving back stabbers.
A coming of age trip to Israel to find out more about his Jewish heritage, reveals more than he bargained for, when Sam comes to realize that he’s not actually Jewish because his mom isn’t, pure blood and all that. This sets off a chain of events, which ultimately leads to Howards’ total meltdown. Also, we find out that Sam is gay, and no one cares.
The author uses the Hollywood backdrop to get his thoughts on gays and Jews across as well; I especially loved her comparison of the Jew philosophy to the nazi dogma, at a talk she gives about Art, no less. The woman has style!
Using a narrator whose not part of the Hollywood crowd; in fact, someone who’s the exact opposite of the typical attention grubbing, airhead that makes up most of tinsel town, gives the book a much needed impartiality. We see stark contrasts between the two; where the one has dignity, class, compassion, great taste in literature and intellect the other is greedy, classless, at times stupid, involved in idle gossip and part of the book club not for the love of reading but because it’s the ‘in’ thing at the moment, we’ll let you figure out which is which!
Overall I’d give the book a 3 out of 5. It’s an easy read, doesn’t require your full concentration like say, Moby Dick. It’s something I’d curl up by the fire with, a cup of hot cocoa in hand, provided I was living in Alaska, in Karachi I’d probably die of heat exposure.