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With each new novel, post-modern legend Jonathan Baumbach subtly reimagines the shape of the wheel. In his latest, YOU, subtitled "Or the Invention of Memory," the narrator remembers or imagines or invents the story of a not easily defined relationship with a complex and variable woman known in the novel only as You. The style will captivate, needing no explanation as to w With each new novel, post-modern legend Jonathan Baumbach subtly reimagines the shape of the wheel. In his latest, YOU, subtitled "Or the Invention of Memory," the narrator remembers or imagines or invents the story of a not easily defined relationship with a complex and variable woman known in the novel only as You. The style will captivate, needing no explanation as to why Baumbach's novels continue to connect with a wide variety of readers. "You are warily approaching the first sentence of my new novel, not wanting to be taken unaware, or not wanting to be plunged into something from which there is no perceptible exit or perhaps both at once, separate and inseparable concerns. The opening sentence, with your unspoken consent, has edged its way into the barely remembered past."


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With each new novel, post-modern legend Jonathan Baumbach subtly reimagines the shape of the wheel. In his latest, YOU, subtitled "Or the Invention of Memory," the narrator remembers or imagines or invents the story of a not easily defined relationship with a complex and variable woman known in the novel only as You. The style will captivate, needing no explanation as to w With each new novel, post-modern legend Jonathan Baumbach subtly reimagines the shape of the wheel. In his latest, YOU, subtitled "Or the Invention of Memory," the narrator remembers or imagines or invents the story of a not easily defined relationship with a complex and variable woman known in the novel only as You. The style will captivate, needing no explanation as to why Baumbach's novels continue to connect with a wide variety of readers. "You are warily approaching the first sentence of my new novel, not wanting to be taken unaware, or not wanting to be plunged into something from which there is no perceptible exit or perhaps both at once, separate and inseparable concerns. The opening sentence, with your unspoken consent, has edged its way into the barely remembered past."

30 review for You: Or the Invention of Memory: A Novel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    In a throw away sentence in The Friday Book, John Barth mentions attending a conference with fellow PoMo author Jonathan Baumbach. Until reading that sentence I had never heard of the man - checking here on GR he has a slew of books, almost all of them ignored or unknown (his collective ratings of all works might not even reach 200). Thank you Mr. Barth for unearthing an author in need of disinterring, for if this first novel of his that I have read is any indication of the rest of his oeuvre, h In a throw away sentence in The Friday Book, John Barth mentions attending a conference with fellow PoMo author Jonathan Baumbach. Until reading that sentence I had never heard of the man - checking here on GR he has a slew of books, almost all of them ignored or unknown (his collective ratings of all works might not even reach 200). Thank you Mr. Barth for unearthing an author in need of disinterring, for if this first novel of his that I have read is any indication of the rest of his oeuvre, he is a talented writer deserving of increased readership.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Edita

    If we are ever to get back together, I tell myself—you see I do occasionally reconsider the unthinkable—it will have to be as if we were both different people. It is not that I woke up one morning no longer in love with you as that I consciously, willfully, put my romantic longings aside and chose to live in the prosaic real world. In the past when we separated it had seemed to me part of some larger unintelligible process working toward some transcendent reconciliation. My childlike father used If we are ever to get back together, I tell myself—you see I do occasionally reconsider the unthinkable—it will have to be as if we were both different people. It is not that I woke up one morning no longer in love with you as that I consciously, willfully, put my romantic longings aside and chose to live in the prosaic real world. In the past when we separated it had seemed to me part of some larger unintelligible process working toward some transcendent reconciliation. My childlike father used to tell me—it was as if I was eavesdropping on a conversation he was having with himself—that maturity meant no more than the ability to accept things as they are. So in order to pass as an adult in the world’s collective imagination, I acknowledge that it is over between us. We are done, burned out, canceled, history, finis, a page irrevocably turned. That’s my passing-for-an-adult mantra. So, outside of dreams, which I can’t control, you no longer exist for me. (That is, you didn’t exist until I started to write this novel in which you persistently disappear only to reemerge.) There are two ways to look at it. I’m either trying to win you back or to exorcise the tidal pull of my feelings for you forever. I can’t help but wonder—it is an essential part of the game—if you’re reading these words. I imagine that you are, which is next door to, or at least down the street from, to the same thing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) As regular readers know, one of the subjects I often tackle here is that of so-called "genre" literature versus "mainstream" (or "general," or "academic," or whatever term you'd like to use), and of the various similarities and differences between the two; for example, there's what I consider the mos (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.) As regular readers know, one of the subjects I often tackle here is that of so-called "genre" literature versus "mainstream" (or "general," or "academic," or whatever term you'd like to use), and of the various similarities and differences between the two; for example, there's what I consider the most important difference of all, that genre novels tend to concentrate on the creation of an exciting plot, while academic fiction tends to place greater importance on the creation of rich, complex characters. (Of course, the holy grail of literature is a book that presents a perfect balance between plot and character; see my review of last year's All Shall Be Well... by Tod Wodicka for an excellent example of what I'm talking about.) But there are other differences too, ones that fans usually don't like admitting, namely that each of these types of literature are couched in a whole series of easy fetishistic stereotypes; for example, no matter how much most professors wish to deny it, one is simply bound within academic fiction to come across such tropes as self-loathing suburbanites and magical old black men just as often as one stumbles across brilliant yet twisted serial killers within the world of crime novels. And fans of these books love such fetishistic touches, and are specifically on the lookout for them whenever picking up a new title; while non-fans hate such touches, and ridicule those books precisely for them. And thus makes up the Grand Game of Literature, and why it is that we so passionately argue about the relative merits of this book versus that which continues to this day. Take for example celebrated academe Jonathan Baumbach, a multiple-grant-winning professor who has racked up a whole string of award nominations over his long and respected career; if his name sounds familiar to you non-academes as well, it's because his son Noah is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and I've actually done detailed write-ups here in the past of his movies Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale (which coincidentally enough is a semi-autobiographical dark comedy about his parents' messy mid-'80s divorce, painting a scarily dysfunctional yet ultimately loving portrait of today's author under review). I just got a chance in fact to read the senior Baumbach's latest novel, 2007's You: Or, The Invention of Memory, and found it to be an almost textbook example of what I'm talking about; because some people out there are going to adore this book and some are going to despise it, ironically for the same exact reason, because of it being one of the most sweatily stacked piles of academic-fiction stereotypes this side of a drunken orgy at the Iowa Writers Workshop. And some people are simply going to love this, and some are simply going to hate it, and today I'm going to try to present as fair a look as I can at why this is. Because let me go ahead and make my personal biases clear right away, that I myself tend to not like most academic fiction, mostly because I can't f-cking stand to be around such whiny, passive-aggressive little academic sh-ts even in real life, so certainly don't usually care for sitting around reading stories about them. And make no mistake, You's entire cast of characters consists exclusively of whiny, passive-aggressive academes; in fact, much like the aforementioned Squid, this too is a semi-autobiographical tale, the story of a relationship between a man named "JB" who just happens to be a semi-autobiographical novelist who looks exactly like the book's real author, and a woman named "Lois Lane" who works in the '70s and '80s at a hipster New York publication called The Magazine (with Baumbach's real-life ex having the equally preposterous but actual name of Georgia Brown, and who worked in the '70s and '80s at hipster New York publication The Village Voice). It's something that drives a lot of people crazy about such fiction, including myself, this uber-meta approach to storyline found in so many such books, of how many academic novels just happen to be semi-autobiographical tales about academic writers working on semi-autobiographical tales (ugh, I know), and the miserable neurotic lives they and all their friends lead; for non-fans it is ample proof of just what kind of tail-eating snake the world of academic fiction is, and how one simply needs to "escape the ivory tower" before one will ever be able to write work that doesn't smack of navel-gazing masturbation. But like I said, to fans of such work, the storyline itself ultimately doesn't matter that much; because to these people it is character and style that is all-important, and what kinds of conclusions about the world that author has to convey. But unfortunately it is here where Baumbach legitimately stumbles a bit, no matter what you think of academic fiction in general, because he simply doesn't have much of interest to say about the human condition; in fact, when all is said and done, his main message seems to be not much more than, "All of us humans are disgusting little pricks, destined to spend our entire lives causing an endless amount of pain to everyone around us for our own petty selfish gain." And, well, jeez, eight years of Bush already taught me that. This is always my biggest complaint about academic fiction, that the characters being presented are most often these loathsome little trolls, just these whiny little g-dd-mned cowards and moral hypocrites possessing all the emotional maturity of a horny 14-year-old boy; and every time I come across another book full of such characters, the only thing I can seem to ask myself is, "Why did this author think I wanted to sit down and spend a couple of days in the company of such horrid little monsters to begin with?" I mean, even the couple at the heart of You flat-out state the very first time they meet that they can't really stand each other; so why do they end up sleeping together anyway, over and over and over again? And when the sex finally stops being interesting, why do they think that moving in together will somehow magically solve the problem? And when that starts going sour, why do they then think that getting married will somehow magically solve that problem? WHY, YOU MANIPULATIVE LITTLE ASSH-LES? WHY? WHY?! WHY???!!!!! These are the kinds of people I expressly try to avoid even in real life, specifically because there seems to be no rational explanation for their constant and unending dysfunctional behavior; so why would I possibly care about such fates when they're only fictional characters? And if I don't care about the fates of a novel's characters, why again am I reading that novel in the first place? But of course I'm not being fair to fans of such books, which is always the problem of a critic bringing his personal biases into a review; they'll tell you that the entire point precisely is to wallow in the misery of it all, that such a novel shines a light on a whole section of society that deserves to have a light shined on it. And this too is another big difference between academic and genre fiction, and why fans of each tend to poo-poo the other; because for academic fans, a novel can often succeed merely by being a "snapshot" of a specific group of people within a specific time and place in history, that nothing needs to necessarily "happen" within such a novel for it to ultimately be worth our time, as long as by the end we understand a little more about what makes such people tick. And in this you can make yet another legitimate criticism about You in particular, whether or not you're a fan of academic literature in general; because the fact is that Baumbach simply does not present as intriguing or complex of characters or milieu as the best of academic literature does, people like John Irving or Philip Roth or Michael Chabon or TC Boyle who are all just absolute masters of such a thing. And then finally there's also this big difference between academic and genre tales; that among those who study language for a living (i.e. the academes), how you tell a story is as important as what you have to say, which is why so much academic fiction tends to be chock-full of ten-dollar words that go right over so many people's heads, and why so many of them embrace experimental stylistic structures that by the end threaten to become incomprehensible. And yes, once again You is guilty of this as well, and what you ultimately think of the book will depend greatly on what you think of such structural experiments in general; for as the title suggests, the entire first half of this book is written in the rarely-used second-person voice, the male narrator actually telling the story as if it were a giant hundred-page letter to the jilted/jilting lover in question. (And indeed, the main character even admits that he's writing the entire book while picturing the mental image of the jilted ex actually sitting and reading it in the future, yet another example of this navel-gazing uber-meta masturbation by egomaniacal little pricks that I mentioned earlier.) Now, this alone wouldn't have been so bad in my opinion (I have a high tolerance for well-done experimentation, as regular readers know), and in fact I believe would've made for a nice solid project by the end if this had been the only experiment tried, and if Baumbach had carried it through to the very last page; but this is yet another legitimate problem with You in particular versus academic fiction in general, that this book tends to throw in a whole hodgepodge of such experiments, willy-nilly throughout the manuscript until becoming a baffling mess by the end. For example, Baumbach switches over to a traditional third-person voice for the second half of this slim novel, and with the woman suddenly now narrating the story, thus diluting the entire point of titling it You in the first place; and even while maintaining this second-person voice in the first half, he also randomly throws in such other experiments as dueling alternate realities (with the first half of the book actually consisting of two different storylines woven in and out of each other, a sort of Sliding Doors look at two possible ways this relationship could've actually gone down), while in the second half he tosses in such undergrad-style classroom exercises as entire chapters written as therapy-session transcripts. And this is not to even mention the little flashes of our old friend the unreliable narrator found throughout, rearing its confused little head for a few pages before the narrator suddenly becoming sane again; just to cite one good example, I don't know what the f-ck Baumbach meant by the little one-page suggestion in the first half that his girlfriend tried to poison him during a trip to France, and also don't know what he means by then never referring to the incident ever again, nor to the persistent rumor in the first half among mutual friends that she had poisoned boyfriends before. It's for all of these reasons that I am not giving You a very high score today; but it's also for these reasons that you might want to check it out anyway, especially if you're already a fan of such writers as Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Owen Butler, or such annual events as the National Book Critics Circle Award. For all of you, this book will most definitely be worth your time; for all of you not into such things, though, my recommendation today is to skip this novel altogether. Out of 10: 7.6

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chris Via

    A Barthean situation with shades of Calvino but boasting a sui generis style, this book is the anti-memory novel to Proust’s memory novel.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    A little set up: Sometimes I read record or book reviews where the reviewer treats descriptions like 'nostalgic' or 'sentimental' like they're four-letter words. I suppose I can understand that if you're trying to delve into huge universal themes and don't have time with petty personal issue and histories.... Also, I recently read a feature on the avclub.com about music one cannot listen to anymore. You know, maybe the music you listened to with an ex that broke you're heart, the favorite song of A little set up: Sometimes I read record or book reviews where the reviewer treats descriptions like 'nostalgic' or 'sentimental' like they're four-letter words. I suppose I can understand that if you're trying to delve into huge universal themes and don't have time with petty personal issue and histories.... Also, I recently read a feature on the avclub.com about music one cannot listen to anymore. You know, maybe the music you listened to with an ex that broke you're heart, the favorite song of a dead friend/family member. Keeping these two digressions in mind, I'll now get to Baumbach's 'You; or the Invention of Memory'. I'm not too callous to admit there is a heap of songs I cannot, or choose not to listen to anymore, because mostly because of the former reason above, but also, as I get older the latter as well. Let's just say that upon opening Baumbach's book, I unearthed those songs to milk this openly candid, 'nostalgic' and 'sentimental' book for all it's worth. Anyway, I get about halfway through, reading while listening to those forbidden songs and the book is sentimental and wistful and most definitely nostalgic. (The whole premise, as the title would suggest is nostalgia and the fallacy of memory). But, to be honest the songs aren't doing to me what they once had the power to do but, all in all the book isn't bad when I'm listening to my songs. Sure, I'm being a bit self-indulgent but who isn't from time to time. But once I came back to the book without these songs as my guide, I just didn't really care anymore. Is that awful? For a multidude of reasons, the most obvious being: insted of enjoying the book for what it is, while listening to these songs, I tried to narcissistically project myself into the narrator's experience. Tried to amplify the pang these songs would create with a fiction counterpart. That being said, and I know I took the long way to say this: you won't like this book if you dislike sentimental, nostalgic stories/books. But, if you're like most of us and sometimes like to get lost in something in order to find your way back to a time in your life AND had a soundtrack for a hard time you went through, this book might suit your fancy. Now I'm just wondering about not being able to self-indulgently, narcissistically lose myself in that aforementioned personal (morbid) soundtrack. God, I hope its not because I'm getting older and more mature. That would be a shame. Recommended Soundtrack: (see above; different for everybody)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Jonathan Baumbach's latest...am really enjoying it: his humor and fine writing, his wonderful portrayal of the subtleties and complexities of the mind and heart in love and attraction... Jonathan Baumbach's latest...am really enjoying it: his humor and fine writing, his wonderful portrayal of the subtleties and complexities of the mind and heart in love and attraction...

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

    Loved the first half. I struggled to enjoy the switch in the second half.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clifford

    I'll probably have more to say about this later, but wanted to comment that this book was a fast and fun read. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, though. The main character, JB (the author's initials) is obsessed with a woman who may or may not at one point become his wife. They meet frequently on elevators. They break up and obsess over each other. I think I need to read it again. Let me just say, though, that it bugged me that the copyeditor doesn't know the difference between "a while" I'll probably have more to say about this later, but wanted to comment that this book was a fast and fun read. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, though. The main character, JB (the author's initials) is obsessed with a woman who may or may not at one point become his wife. They meet frequently on elevators. They break up and obsess over each other. I think I need to read it again. Let me just say, though, that it bugged me that the copyeditor doesn't know the difference between "a while" and "awhile"--might have cost the book a star in my estimation.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    I really liked the beginning and middle, but like many novels, it started to drag towards the end. I lost interest and didn't complete the book. However, the writing is so excellent, I'll no doubt return to finish the novel and re-assess it. I really liked the beginning and middle, but like many novels, it started to drag towards the end. I lost interest and didn't complete the book. However, the writing is so excellent, I'll no doubt return to finish the novel and re-assess it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    His best novel since "Reruns." Brilliant. His best novel since "Reruns." Brilliant.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    This is a fun, fast read. I particularly liked the female character in the beginning of the story … YOU … which was ME for a while. Can't help but love that! This is a fun, fast read. I particularly liked the female character in the beginning of the story … YOU … which was ME for a while. Can't help but love that!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie Schwartz

    76 pages into it, I am really loving this book. Thank you, Lauren Cerrand for sending it!

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Gutowski

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nick

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kerri Shiffler Schroeck

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tito

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

  23. 5 out of 5

    Veena Hari

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marie

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christopher White

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Barr

  29. 5 out of 5

    Angie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nora

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