Reviews & Recommendations

Book of the Week: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

MY THOUGHTS:
Dan Chaon, author of the well received “You Remind Me Of Me” and an award winning book of short stories called “Among the Missing”, has written what Jonathan Franzen called, “the essential identity-theft novel,” a mysterious and mesmerizing story about three different young adults running away from their troubled, haunted pasts and into the vast uncertainty of modern adulthood, into the potential and possibility there. Lucy Lattimore is a recent high school graduate who runs away to Nebraska with her charming young history teacher, George, and his maserati and promises. Meanwhile, Miles Cheshire, an employee at a mail order magic shop, is in search of his long lost twin brother, Hayden, for whom he finds himself dropping everything again and again. And Ryan Schuyler is a college dropout with a flair for the dramatic and a newly discovered secret that causes him to rethink not only his current circumstances but his very existence.

In “Await Your Reply”, Chaon weaves these three story lines into a remarkable, tense, thriller of a story that “[showcases] his characters’ individuality by threading subtle connections between and among them with effortless finesse, all the while invoking the complexities of what’s real and what’s fake” (Publisher’s Weekly). Like most stories, “Await Your Reply” is about what it means to be an individual, but more than that it is about what it means to be a human being along with other human beings, what it means and why it’s important to interact and appreciate the relationships one has; it’s about honesty and truth and how love and companionship is impossible without both.

It packs a wallop of a surprise ending – and, in fact, gets better and better as the pages fly despite it remarkable opening – but is unassuming both in how it presents that ending and in how it presents the journey there. As the book’s dust jacket rightly advertises, it “is a literary masterwork with the momentum of a thriller, an unforgettable novel in which pasts are invented and reinvented and the future is both seductively uncharted and perilously unmoored.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID:
— “I haven’t had as much sheer fun reading a novel in years. Chaon’s characters are always so beautifully drawn that they hold your attention even when they’re just sitting and thinking. In this breathtaking book, they do that and a whole lot more.”
– Ann Packer, author of “The Dive from Clausen’s Pier”

— “This is a stunning and beautiful book. I must have read its final pages half a dozen times, just letting what lay packed and coiled within them settle into me. Out of pure loss, Chaon has created real magnificence. “Await Your Reply” attains a kind of blurry, bloodstained perfection.”
Peter Straub, author “A Dark Matter”

— “The brilliant Dan Chaon has done it again. Both a genre-bending whodunit and a profound meditation on identity, Await Your Reply left me breathless with admiration. The pages turn themselves.”
– Justin Cronin, author of “The Summer Guest”

— “So breathtaking… that the reader practically feels compelled to start the novel anew, just to discover the cues that he’s missed along the way.”
– Kirkus Reviews

— “By Page 200, I was… completely hooked — a credit both to ­Chaon’s intricate and suspenseful plotting and to some of the most paranoid material to hit American literature since Don DeLillo’s “White Noise.”
– Lucinda Rosenfel, The New York Times Sunday Book Review

–“Mr. Chaon succeeds in both creating suspense and making it pay off, but “Await Your Reply” also does something even better. Like the finest of his storytelling heroes, Mr. Chaon manages to bridge the gap between literary and pulp fiction with a clever, insinuating book equally satisfying to fans of either genre.”
-Janet Maslin, NY Times
AN EXCERPT:

Chapter One

We are on our way to the hospital, Ryan’s father says.
Listen to me, Son:
You are not going to bleed to death.

Ryan is still aware enough that his father’s words come in through the edges, like sunlight on the borders of a window shade. His eyes are shut tight and his body is shaking and he is trying to hold up his left arm, to keep it elevated. We are on our way to the hospital, his father says, and Ryan’s teeth are chattering, he clenches and unclenches them, and a series of wavering colored lights—greens, indigos—plays along the surface of his closed eyelids.

On the seat beside him, in between him and his father, Ryan’s severed hand is resting on a bed of ice in an eight-quart Styrofoam cooler.

The hand weighs less than a pound. The nails are trimmed and there are calluses on the tips of the fingers from guitar playing. The skin is now bluish in color.

This is about three a.m. on a Thursday morning in May in rural Michigan. Ryan doesn’t have any idea how far away the hospital might be but he repeats with his father we are on the way to the hospital we are on the way to the hospital and he wants to believe so badly that it’s true, that it’s not just one of those things that you tell people to keep them calm. But he’s not sure. Gazing out all he can see is the night trees leaning over the road, the car pursuing its pool of headlight, and darkness, no towns, no buildings ahead, darkness, road, moon.

THE AUTHOR:

Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of “Among the Missing,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and “You Remind Me of Me,” which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and The O’Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and he was recipient of the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College, where he is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing.

“Await Your Reply” was published by Ballantine Books, New York, New York, 2009.

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