A personal trip down memory lane
Author of the critically-aclaimed novel “Zoology,” Ben Dolnick goes back to his childhood in his sophomore effort, “You Know Who You Are,” to paint a vivid and honest portrait of growing up.
“You Know Who You Are” is the story of young Jacob Vine, the middle child of the quintessential American family. At age seven, Jacob is living a normal, happy life – that is, until his older brother Will decides to move out of the room they share. Dolnick chooses to open the novel with this small act, which became earth-shattering in the way Jacob looks at his older brother and comes to define their relationship as they grow.
From then on the reader is taken through Jacob’s young life, as he develops through puberty, makes and breaks relationships with friends and girlfriends, goes to school and endures the death of a parent.
Dolnick is a contemplative, intelligent writer. What he might lack in exciting prose, he certainly makes up for in thoughtfulness. Every moment and experience in Jacob’s life is in youthful, vivid detail.
29-year-old Dolnick has a gift for reminding the audience what it was like growing up, the fears, curiosities and discoveries, without being condescending, as some authors are when writing about children.
“You Know Who You Are” is a very personal work of his, perhaps more personal than it originally appears; Dolnick grew up outside Washington, D.C. and currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, just as his main character does.
If the book has one flaw, it is pacing. It is confusing and difficult to determine the purpose of the novel – at first, it just feels like a string of events, each tragedy overpowering the last. One wonders what else could possibly go wrong in Jabos’ life.
The book neatly ties itself together in the end, but until then the reader is left wondering where exactly the story is going.
On the other hand, this linear story-telling method is refreshingly realistic – it is the way life is lived, after all. Jacob does not know what his future is; he can only think back to his life experiences and recount them all in sequence.
Dolnick ends his novel not with a happy ending but with a wistful one. This ending completes the book’s overall tone: Jacob’s childhood and young adulthood and the life-changing events he experienced, starting with his older brother’s moving out of their room, shaped him in irreversible ways.
“You Know Who You Are,” is not completely absorbing but rather best read in parts. The novel is certainly the work of an empathetic author, unafraid to take his readers on a trip down their own memory lanes.
Erin Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.