Since I do like to read dysfunctional family dramas or sad tales, this one probably just hit a raw nerve. That said, I still really liked the book almost as much as Chaons other and Im not likely to forget this story for some time to come.
Second, this books makes you think.
I didn't feel fully engaged until the very end of page 250 (right before the last section) with this passage: What if she never knows the end of the story? I love that kind of thing if there's a good reason for it (e.g., Kate Atkinson's Life After Life) but here it seems only there to conjure up tension, thus creating an artificial feel, at least to me.
This is his debut novel after many years of writing short stories. The craft of short story writing comes through in every sentence of this novel - rich, evocative imagery punches through some of the most economic sentences and paragraphs; characters are compelling, dynamic and fully explored; drama hits forcefully and emotionally.
Chaon also writes a lot about patterns, especially those found in families, and how each new member of a family represents hope to the generation that bore them. To Jonah, the older brother that got away from their parents was hope that he could be someone better than he is.
He is not John Irving, but Dan Chaon's style and mood are very similar.
The detached melancholy of the whole book was fantastically appealing to me at the time, the desperate attempts to make a connection that only land you further and further away from one.
I usually like to read every single word, but I got so impatient with this that I kinda skipped a sentence here, skimmed a paragraph there, all in the hope of reaching the end faster. Jonah lives with his mother, Nora, his grandfather and the pet Doberman, Elizabeth, in a small rural town called Little Bow. He's a lonely, clingy kid, whose mother was forced to give away her first "fatherless" baby and is now slipping further and further into depression, drugs and resentment. The book starts here, on the day when Jonah is attacked by Elizabeth, who he was playing a make-believe game with which involved locking them in the bathroom and hiding in the tub. The scene where Jonah is rescued by his grandfather includes a brief description about what happened to Elizabeth: "He hears the sound of his grandfather's raw, smoker-voiced moaning. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which is not in chronological order, as it follows the twined stories of Nora, Jonah, Troy - the baby Nora gave up for adoption - and, to a lesser extent, Troy's mother-in-law, Judy, and his son, Loomis. Troy works as a bartender in the small town of St. Bonaventure in Nebraska, and when Jonah turns up and worms his way into Troy's life, I half expected a Talented Mr Ripley deal to go down.
The story follows the disconnected lives of two brothers, one given away for adoption at birth, the other mauled by their mother's Doberman at the age of six. Chaos and consternation erupted when my daughter accidentally threw it out while setting the table.) But the fortunate readers who persist will come to see that this problem is emblematic of the challenge all these characters face as they struggle to organize their own lives, sifting through hopes and memories, visions of what they'd planned and realizations of what they've become. When his mother dies, Jonah discards every possession, every remnant of his past, and sets out for a new city armed only with a copy of The Fifteen Steps on the Ladder of Success. Jonah's habit of making up memories, designing for himself a more usable past, seems oddly touching. that we once didn't exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to." His plan to remake himself depends on finding his older brother, the baby his mother spent her life mourning. We meet Troy long before Jonah does, first as a sweet adolescent slipping into drug addiction, then as an anxious father struggling to drop the habit and regain custody of his son. The eventual contact between these two brothers arrives in a fascinating, long-delayed crisis, fraught with expectations that Troy can't possibly satisfy for Jonah. Chaon sinks gently and quietly into these sad lives, but moments of real fright spike through his narrative, and the poignancy of Jonah's desire for connection shifts ominously toward much darker tones.
Chaons fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and The O.