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You or Someone Like Youby Chandler Burr
Synopses & Reviews
Anne Rosenbaum leads a life of quiet Los Angeles privilege, the wife of Hollywood executive Howard Rosenbaum and mother of their seventeen-year-old son, Sam. Years ago Anne and Howard met studying litera-ture at Columbia—she, the daughter of a British diplo-mat from London, he a boy from an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Now on sleek blue California evenings, Anne attends halogen-lit movie premieres on the arm of her powerful husband. But her private life is lived in the world of her garden, reading books.
When one of Howard's friends, the head of a studio, asks Anne to make a reading list, she casually agrees—though, as a director reminds her, "no one reads in Hollywood." To her surprise, they begin calling: screen-writers; producers, from their bungalows; and agents, from their plush offices on Wilshire and Beverly. Soon Anne finds herself leading an exclusive book club for the industry elite. Emerging gradually from her seclu-sion, she guides her readers into the ideas and beauties of Donne, Yeats, Auden, and Mamet, with her brilliant and increasingly bold opinions. But when a crisis of identity unexpectedly turns an anguished Howard back toward the Orthodoxy he left behind as a young man, Anne must set out to save what she values above all else: her husband's love.
At once fiercely intelligent and emotionally grip-ping, You or Someone Like You confronts the fault lines between inherited faith and personal creed, and, through the surprising transformation of one exceptional, unfor-gettable woman, illuminates literature's power to change our lives.
"With this academia-obsessed novel, New York Times perfume critic Burr branches out from his nonfiction scent-based books. Howard Rosenbaum is a Jewish powerhouse in Hollywood with an Anglo-Saxon wife, Anne, whom he met at Columbia University, where they both earned Ph.D.s in literature. Now they live among 'pathologically narcissistic' people with an 'utter disdain for the written word.' But when narrator Anne is solicited to compile a book list for Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider (Burr weaves actual Hollywood bigwigs into the tale), the list becomes a small book club, then morphs into a huge gathering with Anne the literary guru to virtually all of Hollywood. Anne and Howard's only child, Sam, travels to Israel, and Howard's initial delight sours when Sam is rejected by a rabbi in Jerusalem for an intensive study 'program' because he is not officially Jewish and therefore 'unclean.' A true celebration of intellect, Burr's tale does, occasionally, misstep into a pedantic bog, but ultimately examines the personal decision each of us must make to run from, or embrace, our identity. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Chandler Burr's challenging first novel is many things: a glimpse into Hollywood culture, an argument about religious identity, a plea for the necessity of literature. According to the author's Web site, it's a book that took him many years to write, and it carries the burden of that effort manfully. It's also dramatically different from the author's previous works. Before his foray... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) into fiction, Burr was best known for two books about the science of smell and the perfume industry: "The Emperor of Scent" (2002) and "The Perfect Scent" (2008). In 2006, he became the scent critic for the New York Times, an appointment that caused more than a bit of eye-rolling in the journalism world. That derision was sadly misguided, for it turns out that Burr, in both his Times columns and his nonfiction books, is a hugely entertaining and a boundlessly knowledgeable commentator on the fascinating amalgamation of science, business and art that is the contemporary world of perfume. One of Burr's chief triumphs in those previous books was his ability to craft the scent industry's often abstruse activities into a beautifully articulated story, with three-dimensional characters and a plotlike narrative in which the reader is generously made welcome. His fans thus have reason to hope his new novel shares that strength. That novel begins with a narrator named Anne Rosenbaum (nee Hammersmith), a literature Ph.D. and the wife of a big-time Hollywood executive named Howard. The Rosenbaums live in a hilltop Los Angeles mansion with their son, Sam, a high school senior who attends a fancy private school. Born in England to a British diplomat father and an American mother, Anne had lived all around the world before meeting Howard at Columbia in the 1970s. She has always felt rejected as a shiksa — a disparaging term for a non-Jewish woman — by her Brooklyn Jewish in-laws, and she stays aloof from the showbiz community, mostly populated by Jews, in which Howard is ensconced. She takes refuge in literature, which serves her well as a distancing tool, since, as movie people like to remind her, "Nobody reads in Hollywood." But things change, as they always do, in novels and in life. A studio head casually asks Anne for a list of reading recommendations, which leads to the creation of an informal book club helmed by Anne, which then goes viral: Soon, industry insiders are jostling to join Anne's growing rotation of reading groups and imbibing the work of Dos Passos and Christina Rosetti as if it were Jamba Juice. Before too long, Anne's the subject of profiles in the New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly and appears on the cover of Vanity Fair as the entertainment world's book guru. As Anne's new career takes off, her marriage begins to go south. When her son returns from a spring-break trip to Israel, where he was kicked out of an Orthodox yeshiva for having a non-Jewish mother, Howard is stricken by the boy's expulsion. He undergoes a full-blown religious crisis, morphing from a devil-may-care secular Jew into a "ba'al teshuva," or one who returns to faithfulness. So life-altering is Howard's new commitment to Judaism that he tries to sever all contact with Anne. Devastated, Anne communicates with Howard by sending him subtle literary messages through the eager rumormongers among her Hollywood book-clubbers. An innovative feature here is that all those book-club members, along with a slew of literati, are real-life figures, from DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider to actor Albert Brooks to New Yorker staffer Anthony Lane. This is a roman that needs no clefs, and it's generally an interesting mash-up. Where Burr gets into trouble, though, is with his purely fictional characters. Because the unraveling of the Rosenbaum marriage appears only from Anne's perspective, the novel becomes mired in a prolonged series of her diatribes against the unfair exclusiveness of religion in general and of Judaism in particular. Awkwardly silent Howard never airs his side, so the story is something of an echo chamber, with nowhere to go. And on every occasion, one-dimensional Anne is a dour pedant: In one scene, she recites a William Blake poem in order to comfort a Spanish-speaking gardener who's been hit by a car (never mind that all the Latinos in Burr's Los Angeles are maids or gardeners), droning on until surely the poor man must yearn for death rather than listen to this woman for another minute. Anne's point, pounded home throughout the narrative, is that literature is a uniter while religion's a divider. Maybe so, but somewhere she's forgotten that the other key ingredient in literature is delight. When it abounds, as it has in Burr's previous books, the reader is a joyous participant. But when it's in short supply, that reader — like Anne herself — is reduced to little more than a peevish outsider. Reviewed by Donna Rifkind, who is a critic in Los Angeles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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“Chandler Burrs challenging first novel is many things: a glimpse into Hollywood culture, an argument about religious identity, a plea for the necessity of literature. This is a roman that needs no clefs.” —Washington Post
New York Magazine calls You or Someone Like You, “The highbrow humanist name-dropping book of the summer.” The remarkable first novel by Chandler Burr, the New York Times scent critic and author of The Perfect Scent, is funny, smart, and provocative—an extraordinarily ambitious work of fiction that succeeds on many different levels. It is a book David Ebershoff, (author of The 19th Wife) enthusiastically recommends “for anyone who defiantly clings to the belief that a book can change our lives.”
About the Author
Chandler Burr is the New York Times scent critic and author of The Perfect Scent, The Emperor of Scent, and A Separate Creation. He has written for the Atlantic and The New Yorker. He lives in New York City.
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