Reviews & Recommendations

List Round-Up: Best Books of 2010

For a quick sampling of what books reviewers are calling the best of 2010 head over to my tumblr page.

Reviews & Recommendations, The Modern Times

On labels, categories, and “Hipster Christianity”

Brett McCracken’s suddenly semi-controversial and certainly thought provoking book, Hipster Christianity, has been making the proverbial rounds as bloggers, editors, and book reviewers begin to consider the questions it raises and the implications of its thesis.

It seems to me they are, largely, missing the point.

For a basic introduction to the book, click here.

Fundamental to McCracken’s point is the truth that if church is too enamored with “cool” than its necessary emphasis on the gospel will be diminished. That this is true seems unarguable and so I won’t touch on it here.
Yet, McCracken’s most insistent critics, especially the always insightful and admirable Jeffrey Overstreet ( who, like McCracken, has been a film critic for Christianity Today), are primarily concerned with the idea that McCracken defines “hipsterdom” and then perhaps too broadly suggests that people who bear the characteristics that define said hipsterdom are, in fact, hipsters. In response to, Overstreet blogged this:

I haven’t had time to read it all yet, so this isn’t a review. But the “hipster” characteristics described in the excerpts of this book I’ve read so far — the music preferences, the styles, etc — are embraced by many people I know for many reasons, many of them sincere, authentic, even admirable. To slap a label on the lot of them as if they’re all alike is, I’m afraid, misleading and damaging.

I have a problem with the logic of this criticism.

While it is true that McCracken does define the world of hipsterdom (as he should), even tracing its history and heritage and the many characteristics that most often define people who consider themselves hipsters – or are considered by others to be hipsters – such a definition does not necessarily suggest that people who bear those characteristics are always hipsters.

Overstreet is rightly saying that just because someone listens to a kind of music most hipsters listen to does not mean he is a hipster. But McCracken wouldn’t disagree. Essentially, I think the disagreement is over nothing, created ex nihilo so to speak. A fallacy, if you will. McCracken sets out to identify and report those characteristics that can be most commonly attributed to various kinds of hipsters. He doesn’t suggest that just because one has those characteristics means one is a hipster.

Overstreet specifically mentions a quiz/test on the book’s website that, in a lighthearted and, I thought, clearly ironic fashion suggests that it can help determine what kind of hipster you are. Overstreet rightly suggests that such a quiz cannot “tell me who I am.” He writes:

If I see an online quiz that claims to show me whether or not I am a “Christian hipster,” I’m going to ignore it. I don’t believe a checklist can tell me what I am, why I make the decisions I do, or whether or not I am selling out. It will probably only *encourage* [asterix his] me to look to such surveys for self-definition, to worry about what I *look* like to the culture around me.

But this surely was never the intention of the quiz. Such a tongue-in-cheek quiz, for such a book, by such an author as McCracken, is not designed to define a person. Rather, it is for someone who is interested in seeing, in a humorous way, what kind of hipster they might beaccording to the specific definitions the book presents. The flaw in Overstreets criticism, in my mind, is in the suggestion that McCracken, or his quiz, means to lump anyone into anything. After all, if you head over to the site and take the quiz, I think you will find that, with the slightest honest tweak to any number of questions, you are any number of hipster incarnations.

The book seems to have three main goals: to trace the history of the various incarnations of hipsterdom, to define what it often looks like in our current culture, and to question what role it ought to play within the culture of our churches. How can McCracken be expected to write such a book without first defining his terms according to a criteria he deems most appropriate? The fact is that there is such a thing as a so-called hipster subculture, that it is widely considered “cool,” and that is a large and ever-growing subculture within the Christian church. And as Overstreet writes in the same blog post, the discussion must be had and it should inspire us to “think about our choices, our sincerity, and our priorities.” But if it is to be had we must, we absolutely must, define out terms – something McCracken sets out to do in this book.

To that end, as a tool, labels are useful, as are categories. That’s why they exist and why they are and ought to be used. They are organizers, tools for definition (which, as Aristotle argued, is the necessary first step in any argument). And, I would argue, McCracken uses them as nothing more.

To suggest that most so-called hipsters (a term he consistently and rightly says is slippery at best) tend to like certain kinds of clothes, art, food, lifestyles, etc is no different than suggesting that most African Americans tend to vote democrat and most white evangelicals tend to vote republican. It’s fact. Statistic. Both are true, as is the fact that most hipsters prefer a specific sets of lifestyle choices. McCracken is not saying, however, that all hipsters like the same kind of music, clothes, etc., just as studies do not suggest that all African Americans voted Democrat, etc. Most do, though, and one cannot study cultural trends, as McCracken is doing, without observing the broader consistencies of a demographic.

Indeed, the fact is that the vast majority of people who listen to the Arcade Fire or The National, who wear “superfluous” scarves in the summer in LA, or who attend church in bars or clubs with coffee shops and “sex talks” tend to be a part, in some way or another, of the hipster sub-culture. To observe this is simply not the same as making a sweeping declaration about the character of the individual people who are a part of such things; it is an observation McCracken has no choice but to make and upon which he has no choice but to build his arguments.

And he is not judging the hipsters as individuals, nor is he, in point of fact, judging the movement itself so much as he is, after considering the reams of evidence such as it exists, judging the influence of modern hipsterdom on the modern church.

And he is right to do so, for if “cool” manages to overwhelm the gospel in our places of worship and community then why go there anyway? We have other places for that.

It’s not that there isn’t a place for hipster culture in our churches. But it must be just that – relegated to it’s rightful place, alongside politics, rock music, and business-savvy marketing.

What do you think? I could be wrong, no doubt.

In no way do I mean to disrespect Mr. Overstreet. I consider him my very favorite blogger and film reviewer and a leading light within the world of Christ-led art-makers. I offer my thoughts humbly and with the acknowledgment that he is much wiser than I.

Reviews & Recommendations

Book of the Week: Ancient Highway

Bret Lott is a writer I admire very much, and whose memoir on a life spent writing, Before We Begin, I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying. His prose is poetic and his vivid stories are rich with meaning and anyone who loves the movies (or the “flickers” as they are called in this novel), the poetry of early and mid-century Americana, or stories based upon the complex history of a single family will find Ancient Highway a must read.

Leif Enger, Wallace Stegner, Alice Munro

DESCRIPTION: “From the bestselling author of Jewel and The Difference Between Women and Men comes a haunting novel of home, family, and the pursuit of lost dreams. Ancient Highway brilliantly weaves together the hopes and regrets of three characters from three generations as they reconcile who they are and who they might have been.In 1925, a fourteen-year-old boy leaves his family’s farm and hops a boxcar in a dusty Texas field, heading for Hollywood and a life in the “flickers.”In 1947, a ten-year-old girl aches for a real home with a real family in a wide-open space, far from the crowded Los Angeles streets where her handsome cowboy father chases stardom and her mother holds a secret.In 1980, a young man just out of the Navy visits his elderly yet colorful grandparents in Los Angeles, eager to uncover his family’s silent history.For the Holmeses, a longing for something else–another place, a second chance–seems to run in the family DNA. From Earl’s journey west toward Hollywood glory, to his daughter Joan’s wish for a normal existence away from the bright lights, to his grandson Brad’s yearning for truth, this deep-rooted desire sustains them, no matter how much the goal eludes them. But ultimately, in each generation, a family crisis forces a turning away from the horizon and the acceptance of a reality that is by turns harsh and healing.Inspired by stories of his own family, Bret Lott beautifully renders the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary faith in a mesmerizing and finely wrought tale of love and letting go.”

EXCERPT (via Random House):


He’d heard it already, the cold and steady promise way off, building and building but still way off, not yet even to the trestle over Rogers Creek. But coming.

He pulled closed the door off the kitchen quiet as he could, his hand on the knob and twisting it so as to ease the latch with no noise at all, and it seemed a kind of good luck sign to him, that no-sound to help him on his way.

He had his good clothes in the pillowcase, the white shirt and stiff denim dungarees and the yellow tie he’d taken from Frank’s things the day after he passed, and though he’d never worn the tie, only kept it like a secret fact out of Frank’s life that no one else would ever know, he was sure he’d look good in it when he went for his first screen test.

That’s what they called them, he’d seen in the magazines he’d read. A screen test, and his blood quickened at the thought of that, a test to see if you could be on the screen. A test he was certain he would pass, knew he would pass.

He had a few copies of the magazines in the pillowcase, too—two Photoplays, one Motion Picture—he’d somehow managed to keep as secret as Frank’s tie, and there were sandwiches in there, wrapped in wax paper and made not but a minute ago. He’d tiptoed his way to the kitchen in the dark, sliced off thick hanks of bread on the butcher block, then found in the icebox a couple leftover slices of ham, slathered the bread with butter from the crock inside the icebox too, then got the wax paper from the drawer beside the stove. And he had two dollars in his pocket, maybe enough for whatever other food he’d need for the three or four days he figured it would take to get to California.

He was ready.

He was going.

Bret Lott is the author of twelve books, most recently the novel Ancient Highway, (Random House 2008); other books include the story collection The Difference Between Women and Men, the nonfiction book Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, and the bestselling novels Jewel, an Oprah Book Club pick, and A Song I Knew by Heart. His work has appeared in, among other places, The Yale Review, The New York Times, The Georgia Review and in dozens of anthologies. Born in Los Angeles, he received his BA in English from Cal State Long Beach in 1981, and his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1984, where he studied under James Baldwin. From 1986 to 2004 he was writer-in-residence and professor of English at The College of Charleston, leaving to take the position of editor and director of the journal The Southern Review at Louisiana State University. Three years later, in the fall of 2007, he returned to The College of Charleston and the job he most loves: teaching. His honors include having been named Fulbright Senior American Scholar and writer-in-residence to Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel; having spoken on Flannery O’Connor at The White House; and being appointed a member of the National Council on the Arts. He and his wife, Melanie, and live in Hanahan, South Carolina.

Reviews & Recommendations

20 Writers Under the Age of 40

In case you missed it, I wanted to make note of the fact that The New Yorker recently published their Summer Fiction Issue, in this case the “20 Under 40” issue.

The issue includes short fiction by the likes of Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Safron Foer, Joshua Ferris, ZZ Packer, Daniel Alarcon, and others. Pick it up from newsstands if you get a chance.

But while you’re at it, head over to the New Yorker’s website and check out a series of questionnaires they have with each of these writers. They ask about influences, doubt, what makes a good story, and what their futures hold. Many of who will be interested, and glad I’m sure, to know that both Safron Foer and Krauss are working on new novels, and Krauss, in fact, has a new one forthcoming this Autumn.

Here are a few of my favorite responses to the question “what, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?”:

– From Krauss:
“Its ability to remind us of ourselves, of who we are in our essence, and at the same instant to deliver a revelation.”

– From Joshua Ferris
“Its own insistence upon being reread.”

– From David Bezmozgis
“The best way I can articulate it is to say that a piece of fiction—or really any work of art—has to have at its core some kind of irretrievable loss. There are an infinite number of irretrievable losses—we experience new ones every day. The form of the story, through its language and tone, must then honor that loss without drifting into parody on one side or melodrama on the other—with melodrama being the lesser crime.”

– From Salvatore Scibona
“Word choice. The ability of the book to exceed its premise. The impression of a complete, invented world. Control of the instrument (language). Faith in the unconscious. The ability, as Joan Didion says, “to love and to remain indifferent.”

– From Yiyun Li
“I don’t know. This is an unanswerable question for me.”

– From Rivka Galchen
“Productive confusion. Surprise. Some blood. A little parsley.”

Highly recommend these interviews. They’re a great read, even providing a small clue into the involved and often confused psyches of writers. Some more successful than others.

Also. If you get a chance I recommend taking a look at a blog called, Leslie’s Writing Exercises, which I discovered because the proprietor over there, the not-surprisingly named Leslie, commented on a post here. She has a great post on mistakes beginning writers tend to make. Check it.

Reviews & Recommendations

Book of the Week: Too Much Happiness by Alice Munroe

Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers – the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky – a late-nineteenth-century Russian emigre’ and mathematician – on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lovers, to Paris, Germany, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which mean and women accomodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

“Too Much Happiness” is a compelling, provocative – even daring – collection.
(from the book’s flap)

“Munro’s latest collection is satisfyingly true to form and demonstrates why she continues to garner laurels (such as this year’s Man Booker International Prize). Through carefully crafted situations, Munro breathes arresting life into her characters, their relationships and their traumas. In Wenlock Edge, a college student in London, Ontario, acquires a curious roommate in Nina, who tricks the narrator into a revealing dinner date with Nina’s paramour, the significantly older Mr. Purvis. Child’s Play, a dark story about children’s capacity for cruelty and the longevity of their secrets, introduces two summer camp friends, Marlene and Charlene, who form a pact against the slightly disturbing Verna, whose family used to share Marlene’s duplex. The title, and final, story, the collection’s longest and most ambitious, takes the reader to 19th-century Europe to meet Sophia Kovalevski, a talented mathematician and novelist who grapples with the politics of the age and the consequences of success. While this story lacks some of the effortlessness found in Munro’s finest work, the collection delivers what she’s renowned for: poignancy, flesh and blood characters and a style nothing short of elegant.”
– Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

“I was writing a good essay,” reflects the naive student who narrates “Wenlock Edge.” “I would probably get an A. I would go on writing essays and getting A’s because that was what I could do. The people who awarded scholarships, who built universities and libraries, would continue to dribble out money so that I could do it.” Then she concludes: “But that was not what mattered. That was not going to keep you from damage.”

And she is right. Writing good essays is not going to keep you from damage. Nor is writing good stories, no matter how safely settled one may be inside the gates of literature — or, for that matter, inside any other fantasy. Faced with such a world one might well wonder: How are we to live? That is the question Munro has asked throughout her career, and continues to address in this remarkable new book.”
– Troy Jollimore, The LA Times

“Alice Munro— queen of Canadian letters and winner of 2009’s Man Booker International Prize for her body of work — returns with Too Much Happiness, a collection of 10 new stories. At 78, Munro can still teach younger writers how to write marvelously muscular short fiction. These stories have more plot and energy than most novels.”
– Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY

“A new work by Alice Munro is always cause for celebration, and this collection of stories is no exception. These stories are like smooth, fast rivers on the surface, hiding a deep turbulence. Each cool and intelligent voice lures me deep into the tale, but never fails to deal a swift jerk and embed a hook deep and permanent.”
— Karen M. Frank, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT (via indiebound)

“Munro said in her acceptance speech for the Man Booker International Prize, which she was awarded earlier this year, cementing the wide acclaim she now commands, that she is interested not in happy endings but in “meaning… resonance, some strange beauty on the shimmer of the sea”. This remarkable collection certainly captures that – and more of a sense of happiness than might at first seem possible.”
-Lorna Bradbury, The Telegraph

Read an excerpt here.


Alice Munro grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published eleven previous books.During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the W.H. Smith Prize, the National Book Circle Critics Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the Lannan Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Rea Award for the Short Story. In Canada, she has won the Governor General’s Award, the Giller Prize, the Trillium Book Award, and the Libris Award.Alice Munro and her husband divide their time between Clinton, Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia.

You can read customer reviews and purchase a copy here.

Reviews & Recommendations

Storytelling Through Music; Exhibit: Josh Ritter

“While the audience may not be in the room with a novelist, they still demand the same kind of attention as they do from the performance of a song. They ask that you give them your full attention, that you are generous with your time and that you don’t over stay your welcome. They give you their trust, and if they can tell your efforts have been for the right reasons, they’ll give you the room for whatever flights of imagination you’re willing to take them on.”
– Josh Ritter, on how songwriting is like writing a novel or story.

Josh Ritter has been known for a while for his story-based folk songs, so it should come as no great surprise that his first novel, “Bright’s Passage,” will be released sometime during the summer of next year. Apparently, the novel came about as the natural extension of the songwriting for So Runs the World Away, his most recent album – and one I highly recommend.

Of course, folk music has long been influenced by, and been a product of, great storytelling. From the earliest days that Americans played music around campfires and on banjos, up to the days of Guthrie, Cash, Dylan and beyond, it is a genre birthed by good yarns and tall tales, stories of the rough and tumble and the down-and-out. And Josh Ritter, a longtime student of folk art himself, is on the verge of securing his own place within the pantheon of those greats. Like other folk artists who created a lasting place for themselves, Ritter has done so through his mesmerizing stories and spot-on, know-it-all, literary references, through his ability to turn a phrase and create a character.

From lovers in bomb shelters to adventure seeking cowboys (and now resurrected mummies who fall in love with archeologists), his stories have always been just a little out of the ordinary, as one would expect from a songwriter who cites the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Phillip Roth, Stephen King, and Daphne Du Maurier as his greatest influences. But through them, and certainly like them, Ritter has always managed to capture something deeper than just entertainment or humor or romance, or even something catchy and whimsical. His stories are full of mysterious worlds that, despite being firmly locked within the flesh and blood world we all live in, seem unreal, as if haunted by ghosts – which they actually sometimes are. Like a great fantasy story or a beautifully haunting epic poem, they draw the listener/reader in, and away, and appeal to every listeners base, but powerful, desire for adventure and quest.

His songs are often about journeys, even when they are love songs, and they are always about longing, about some deeply sought after yet always elusive thing. Often they end with that longing hanging in the air like pollen, not quite met, for character or listener alike.

And, like the best storytellers, he is not didactic, instead simply revealing the finer points of his characters and plots without any kind of extemporaneous explanation. As they say, he shows instead of telling.

Consider the following haunting tracks from So Runs the World Away.


The leading light of the age all wondered amongst
themselves what I would do next
After all that I’d found in my travels around
the world was there anything else left?
“Gentlemen”, I said, “I’ve studied the maps”
“And if what I’m thinking is right”
“There’s another new world at the top of the world”
“For whoever can break through the ice”

I looked round the room in that way I once had
and I saw that they wanted belief
So I said “All I’ve got are my guts and my God”
then I paused,”and the Annabelle Lee”
Oh the Annabelle Lee, I saw their eyes shine
the most beautiful ship in the sea
My Nina, My Pinta, My Santa Maria
My beautiful Annabelle Lee

That spring we set sail as the crows waved from shore
and on board the crew waved their hats
But I never had family just the Annabelle Lee
so I didn’t have cause to look back
I just set the course north and I studied the charts
and toward dark I drifted toward sleep
and I dreamed of the fine deep harbor I’d find
past the ice for my Annabelle Lee

After that it got colder the world got quiet
it was never quite day or quite night
And the sea turned the color of sky turned the color
of sea turned the color of ice
‘Til at last all around us was fastness
one vast glassy desert of arsenic white
And the waves that once lifted us
sifted instead into drifts against Annabelle’s sides

The crew gathered closer at first for the comfort
but each morning would bring a new set
of the tracks in the snow leading over the edge
of the world ’til I was the only one left
After that it gets cloudy but it feels like I lay there
for days maybe for months
But Annabelle held me the two of us happy
just to think back on all we had done

We talked of the other worlds we’d discover
as she gave up her body to me
And as I chopped up her mainsail for timber
I told her of all that we still had to see
As the frost turned her moorings to nine-tail
and the wind lashed her sides in the cold
I burned her to keep me alive every night
in the lover’s embrace of her hold

I won’t call it rescue what brought me here back to
the old world to drink and decline
And to pretend that the search for another new world
was well-worth the burning of mine
But sometimes at night in my dreams comes the singing
of some known tropical bird
And I smile in my sleep thinking Annabelle Lee
has finally made it to another new world


Louis Collins took a trip out west
And when he returned little Delia’d gone to rest
The angels laid her away
Louis said to Delia, That’s the sad thing with life
People always leaving just as other folks arrive
The angels laid her away
When the people heard that Delia was dead
All them gentlemen they dressed in red
The angels laid her away

The angels laid her away
Laid her six feet under the clay
The angels laid her away

Louis went downtown for a new suit of clothes
Gonna dress up for Delia like a fine red rose
The angels laid him away
He brought a ten-gallon stetson it was oxblood red
Then Stackalee shot Louis in the back of the head
The angels laid him away
Stackalee said to Louis, Oh now, don’t you grieve
I’m sending you to Delia you won’t ever have to leave
The angels laid him away

The angels laid him away
Laid him six feet under the clay
The angels laid him away

The judge was a mean one, his name was Hangin’ Billy Lyons
He said, You’ve always been a bad man, Stack, you’re gonna hang this time
The angels laid him away
And the jailer said to Stackalee,What’s the problem with you?
Oh, jailer, Louis Collins ghost brought Delia’s with him too
The angels laid him away

The angels laid him away
Laid him six feet under the clay
The angels laid him away

They buried little Delia in the churchyard deep
Louis Collins at her head, Stackalee at her feet
The angels laid them away
And out of Delia’s bed came briars, out of Louis’ bed a rose
And out of Stackalee’s came Stackalee’s cold lonely little ghost
The angels laid them away
And I’m looking over rooftops and I’m hoping that it ain’t true
That the same God looked out for them looks out for me and you
The angels laid them away


What are your favorite examples of Josh Ritter’s storytelling and/or your favorite of his lyrics?

Reviews & Recommendations

Book of the Week: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

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.”

— “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

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.


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.