You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon – A Book Review

You Remind Me of Me is a novel that slowly worms its way into the very fabric of your being.  Chaon’s characters are so flawed and utterly human that the reader can’t help but accept them as part of everyday reality.

Chaon also plays with chronology and perspective to the point that the book almost feels like a puzzle, which mirrors the theme perfectly.  The structure of You Remind Me of Me demands both patience and concentration from the reader, and that’s not a bad thing.

The story itself revolves around several characters that, as the plot progresses, are inextricably linked through the circumstances of conventional misfortune.  There are no unbelievable coincidences in You Remind Me of Me, for as the story unfolds, Chaon is careful to keep everything strictly within the bounds of reality.

Because of the jumps in time and narrative, this book didn’t “wow” me right off the bat.  Early on, I wasn’t sure what was going on, and had trouble investing in it as a result.  However, as I kept going, plot points began connecting, and at that moment I realized the magnificent craftsmanship that went into You Remind Me of Me.  Furthermore, it revealed itself as a deeply engaging story.

You Remind Me of Me is a rare blend of creative structuring and captivating story.  If you have patience and don’t mind a little brain tickling, I know you’ll enjoy You Remind Me of Me.

Hamlet 2 – A Movie Review

I loved the ridiculousness of this movie!

Hamlet 2 is about a failed actor who teaches a drama class at a local high school.  He only has two students and they produce horrendous play after horrendous play adapted from popular movies.  One day, though, his class is invaded by shop and home economics students after those programs got cut.  He soon finds out his program is in danger as well, and so he must win over these disinterested students while writing and producing the play-to-end-all-plays if he wants his classes to continue.  His magnum opus?  Hamlet 2!

Actually, on paper, this sounds like a reasonable plot.

It’s not.

And that’s the whole point.  Hamlet 2 is over-the-top and incredibly funny.  It takes every feel-good cliché from high school drama movies and twists them in a delightfully perverse manner.  However, oddly enough, like the final production of the play, Hamlet 2 (the movie) has an alarming amount of heart and soul and somehow forces the audience to care about these characters.  It’s not a “dramedy,” not by a long shot, but it has elements of a serious movie accomplished by the sheer investment of its actors and actresses in such an outrageous premise.

Speaking of whom, Steve Coogan was just brilliant.  He pulled off the numbskull actor so well … I’m sure he’s worked with quite a few who served as inspiration.  His idiotic character is just so pathetic, yet so enthusiastic – you can’t help but love him!

The whole notion of writing a sequel to Hamlet … it’s so … ironically original!  And then, well, not to ruin the climax of the film, but let’s just say that Coogan’s play is not bound by the confines of genre.  Believe me when I tell you that I would pay good money to go see the fruits of Coogan’s character’s efforts!

If you’ve ever attempted to sing, act, or write, you will love this movie and feel quite embarrassed when you see many instances of yourself in it.  Go in with a good sense of humor and you will adore Hamlet 2.

Tropic Thunder – A Movie Review

There’s no doubt in my mind that Tom Cruise made this movie.  I’m no Cruise apologist, but he was absolutely hilarious and nearly unrecognizable as a fat, balding, foul-mouthed movie executive.

With that being said, Tropic Thunder was really very funny.  I’m not sure it’s as good as many make it out to be, but its star-power alone (most of whom brazenly goof on themselves) guarantees entertainment. 

If you’re not familiar with the plot, Ben Stiller plays a Tom Cruise-ish action star hoping to revive his career in a movie based upon a book called Tropic Thunder, written by Nick Nolte’s character, a solider who supposedly helped rescue his POW friends.  Robert Downey, Jr., plays an Oscar-winning Australian who undergoes surgery in order to play a black solider.  Jack Black plays a Chris Farley (or Jack Black) style of actor who’s made his living on fart jokes.  Matthew McConaughey plays Stiller’s agent, and he, like Cruise, gives an unusual and therefore appreciated performance.  Finally, Steve Coogan plays the director of this movie-within-a-movie.

With all the self-obsessed actors <ahem!> acting up, Nolte’s character suggests Coogan drops them into the jungle for real in order to get honest emotions.  Before long, things go awry and Stiller’s character is taken prisoner by a drug cartel.  The other actors now must decide if they head for home or launch a daring rescue operation, just like the movie they were previously making.

While I love Ben Stiller, every character he plays is essentially the same.  Jack Black, too, suffers largely from this dilemma.  Downey, Jr., as a black man got old after a while, but I believe this was actually done on purpose focusing upon method actors’ inability to reclaim their own persona.  Nick Nolte was funny, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t on purpose.  I was glad to see McConaughey playing a role that didn’t involve a romantic comedy, and Steve Coogan’s performance, while short, was typically wonderful.  As I said, though, the surprising scene-stealer was far and way Tom Cruise.

Tropic Thunder was funny, entertaining, and fast-paced, but it wasn’t horribly original and the acting, other than Cruise and Downey, Jr., wasn’t anything you haven’t seen before from the movie’s stars.

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan – A Book Review

Comprised of fifteen short stories, this beautifully illustrated, ninety-six page book is aimed at an audience of twelve and older.

Young people will love the magical realism of Tan’s charming stories, as well as the diverse and mesmerizing artwork.

Older teenagers and adults will appreciate the above aspects also, but they will also treasure the absolute expertise of Tan’s craft, noticing how no detail is left unattended.  For instance, the book’s table of contents is made to look like used stamps and the dedication a processed envelope.  His acknowledgements at the end of the book appear as a used library card.  The entire book showcases such excellent execution of Tan’s imagination, it boggles the mind that someone can employ so many different techniques within the same collection and still create a successfully unified, consistent work.

But Tan is more than simply a skilled artist.  His amusing stories are, at first-glance, seemingly irrelevant and only concerned with engaging young people’s interest, but I think some astute readers will pick up on certain social commentary in the subtext if they look hard enough.  My delight rose to a whole new level when reading it in this light.

Tales From Outer Suburbia is a fulfilling read with charming stories and splendid illustrations that will enchant children and adults alike.

Iodine by Haven Kimmel – A Book Review

This book, appropriately enough, really has me split down the middle.

One hand, I hated it.  It encompassed all of the hipster “too-cool-for-everyone” characteristics in the protagonist, Trace, that drive me bonkers.  All those songs and musicians that everyone who “dares” to be different listens to?  Yep, there in here.  The “I so don’t care about style everyone wants to copy mine” wardrobe?  Yep, that’s here, too.  The “I’m smarter than everyone in the room” attitude?  Got it.  In that regard, Trace reminded me of several characters that literally made me want to bang my head against the wall. 

However, other aspects of the book legitimately won my adoration.  Heavily immersed in Greek mythology, literary criticism, as well as Freud and Jung’s dream analyses, Kimmel presented well-researched and implemented information that played a vital and enjoyable role in the story.  In fact, I so enjoyed her plot points concerning Jung and Freud, I checked out several of their books at my local library concerning dream analysis and archetypes. 

Furthermore, Kimmel really is a good writer.  Her characters are well rounded, she has a smooth writing style, and she’s quite adept with figurative language.  Seemingly pointless details later play significant aspects in the novel that point to Kimmel’s careful attention to detail and forethought.

I personally also enjoyed Iodine because it struck me as a thinking person’s novel.  Consequently, I’m not sure how much the casual reader would appreciate that.  Yes, at times it was a tad heavy-handed and haughty, but, as a one-time English major, I really dug all the allusions and unexpected twists.

In the end, Iodine has a little bit of bad and quite a bit of good, but, unless you get a kick out of looking up psychoanalytical terms and Greek mythological figures, this may not be the book for you.

Burn After Reading – A Movie Review

I have to be honest, as I watched Burn After Reading, I found it more than a little dull and plodding.  While touted as a “dark comedy,” I didn’t find much funny about it at all, and actually suffered more apathy in regards to the film than anything.

However, and here’s the sign of good moviemaking, once it ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

And then, as I kept thinking about it, I started connecting all these little nuanced dots that didn’t reveal themselves until the end of the film.  The movie kept creeping into my thoughts, and I suddenly found much of it very funny.  Then I realized what a complexly simple, well-written movie had been made, and I appreciated it all the more so.

Burn After Reading is a series of interrelated events of absolutely no relevance that have dastardly (and mercilessly funny) consequences.  Frances McDormand and George Clooney steal the show in this Coen Brothers project, but Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, and Tilda Swinton more than hold their own.  This is a fine cast of fairly likable actors who successfully made their characters unlikable yet charismatic at the same time-especially Tilda Swinton.

 Burn After Reading is a “slow burn” of a movie, but one that will demand your consideration even after you’ve finished watching it.

The Party’s Over: A New Year’s Story – January News and Views Short Story

Simon and Leigh are the “it” couple – or so they believe.  After years of crashing New Year’s parties, they finally get the surprise of their lives!  To find out what it is, read “The Party’s Over: A New Year’s Story” in this month’s issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.   

“The Party’s Over: A New Year’s Story” can be found in both the Peoria and Bloomington editions of the free periodical, News and Views for the Young at Heart.

Bloomington News & Views for the Young at Heart is virtually at any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also pick it up at the following locations:

-Suds Subaru
-Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
-Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
-Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
-Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
-Kmart behind Kep’s Restaurant on IAA Drive
-Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
-Kroger on Oakland Avenue
-Jewel-Osco on Veterans Parkway
-Kroger on Main Street
-Bloomington Public Library
-Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

Or, if you live in the Peoria area, get your copy at:

-CVS Pharmacies
-Borders at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
-Save-a-Lot grocery store in Peoria Heights
-Hospital lobbies
-Barnato Pharmacy at Cub Foods in Peoria
-Kmart in Morton
-Methodist Atrium Building in Peoria
-Peoria Heights Library

The Peoria edition is also in most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pekin, Morton, Chillicothe, Lacon, Farmington, Canton, East Peoria, and Eureka.

If you have any comments about “The Party’s Over: A New Year’s Story,” feel free to get in touch at

Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy – A Book Review

In this third installment of The Border Trilogy, McCarthy brings together John Grady Cole from Book I and Billy Parham from Book II as they work together on a ranch.  Though neither delves too deeply into the tragedies in Mexico they both suffered, their unspoken experiences seem to bind them in ways they can’t understand.

A fitting conclusion to The Border Trilogy, McCarthy gives us the final fates of the two heroes we grew to love in previous volumes, and he does so in true McCarthy style.  While the plot is fairly simple, the book is anything but.  McCarthy once again offers dazzling asides that build characterization and encourages the reader to take ownership in Cole and Parham’s lives.  The task of the savvy novelists is not only to tell a good story, but to draw the reader into the day-to-day existence of his characters so thoroughly that the reader forgets it’s fiction in which they’re vicariously taking part.  McCarthy does just that with Cities of the Plain.

His deceptively complex tale is one that is concise yet expansive, beautiful yet mundane, noble yet tragic.  Like life, it is all these things and more.