Reviewed by Beth Cummings
Chandler Burr is best known as the scent (perfume) critic for the New York Times. He has published books on that subject and has also had articles published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic. However, in You or Someone Like You, he goes in an entirely different direction.
This book digs into the concepts of “insider” and “outsider” as they relate to Jews/Gentiles, Hollywood bigwigs/other people, book publishers/writers, and in some ways the author versus the reader of the book.
Anne and Howard Rosenbaum met as grad students in the English department of Columbia University. She was British. He a New York Jew. They marry, have a son– and Howard wasn’t particularly concerned that his family did not want to include Anne in family functions. He has a career finding literary works that can be turned into movie scripts. He wheels and deals with writers, publishers, producers and directors on both coasts.
Anne stays mainly in the background. She attends functions with “important people,” mainly as window dressing, and often brings a book to read while she waits for deals to be finalized over drinks and dinner.
One night at a dinner party, a scriptwriter decides to ask Anne for a list of good literary works to read – wanting to know more about classic literature. Anne agrees to make a list and suddenly finds herself the leader of a reading group filled with writers, directors, producers and their assistants. As Anne’s reading group develops, splits in two and grows, Howard finds himself on the outside of the circle. While Anne had been outside–British, non-working, Gentile–Howard had not noticed. Suddenly he feels the separateness. He decides to return to his Jewish roots, which further alienates him from his wife.
A smart, well-crafted novel, but it has a flaw–Burr has put his readers on the “outside” too. Many of the literary references would send even English majors to their Norton Anthologies, as well as his references to real (behind-the-scenes) individuals in pre-production of Hollywood’s filmmaking.
Even some of the humor requires an intimate knowledge of those subjects plus Jewish culture. For me this was a deterrent to my enjoyment of the book and I would be careful with my recommendations of it.
Armchair Interviews says: Written about exclusion/exclusivity, the author does the same to his reader.
Author’s Web site: http://www.AnneRosenbaum.com