145 of 158 people found the following review helpful
Whoa, I really enjoyed this book. I started reading it this morning in between reading other books but all the other books got put aside as I had to see where this was going.
It starts off with three different story lines that seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with each other. One story begins with a young man, Ryan, whose father assures him that he will not bleed to death as they rush to the emergency room with his severed arm in a styrofoam ice cooler. We later learn more about Ryan, he is Northwestern student who is failing all his classes and is undergoing an identity crisis of sorts when he discovers that the people he grew up with as his parents are actually his adoptive parents. Story number two is of Miles Cheshire who has spent most of his adult life looking for his brother Hayden who had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic when they were teens. But is he really? And finally we have the story of Lucy Lattimore who runs off after her high school graduation with her teacher George Orson.
All these stories are seemingly removed and unconnected and I kept wondering what they had to do with each other. But each story is interesting on its on and that draws you in and keeps your reading.
One of the most intelligent devices that the author employs is the fact that he never tells you the chronology of each story. You are never sure if the stories are taking place simultaneously, weeks/months apart or a few years apart. This makes for a very interesting story telling device as you try to find the connection between the characters. The author is also excellent in his descriptiveness. As the various characters make their way through America and beyond, you are caught up in their worlds and imagine what it must look like. From the decaying Cleveland suburbs, to the Bates motel like inn and accompanying house in Nebraska to the hustle and bustle of a busy African city, you find yourself lost in these worlds and their presence adds to a certain creepiness that permeates the whole story.
I think that one of the most surprising things about this book is that despite the fact that there are mysterious and sinister events happening in this book, the book turns out to be more than just a thriller. At the center of these converging stories is the search for identity and the pursuit to reinvent oneself. As characters interact and intersect it becomes clear that many times you cannot escape yourself no matter how long it takes.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
As soon as you read the opening pages you'll be hooked. Dan Chaon's intricately-plotted novel opens in the middle of the night with a father rushing his son to the hospital. "Listen to me, Son: You are not going to bleed to death." The son's hand is in a cooler on the front seat.
Elsewhere in the night, freshly-minted, eighteen-year-old grad Lucy Lattimore has just surreptitiously left town with her former high-school history teacher, George Orson. They're making "a clean break" together.
The final narrative strand is the story of Miles Cheshire and his--Dare I say it?--evil twin. Miles has been looking for his twin brother, Hayden, for more than a decade. As the novel opens, he's approaching the Arctic Circle in far northern Canada on this latest quest.
What do these people have in common? All of them have huge mysteries in their lives. Many of them appear to be engaged in illegal activities. From the start, the reader knows that there are connections. They are tantalizingly close, but nothing in Chaon's novel is obvious, and revelations don't come easily. The author plays with time, like an artist playing with perspective, to further obfuscate connections. Not all of the stories are told in a linear manner. Meanwhile, the characters explore the very concept of identity. And so many questions are raised... Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.
Constantly while I read Await Your Reply, I kept thinking, How did he do this? He, being Dan Chaon, who has written a complexly-plotted and compulsively-readable thriller that is also a work of incredible literary beauty. Await Your Reply is an amazing accomplishment. You won't be able to put it down. Once you've followed all the trails and unraveled the last clues, you'll be blown away! What are you waiting for?
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Reading this book is to accompany its characters on their independent journeys from the persons they were to the persons they become. Or so it seems, for few of the book's realities are as they appear to be. This book requires from the reader what the author put into it: the open mindedness of a listener and the watchful eye of a puzzler.
A plot summary does not do justice here. To say that Await Your Reply presents an inside-out tale of assumed identities and a linear study of an entwined underworld is quite enough. Characters are well drawn, but none are wholly likable, and none beg our sympathy. One, whose character links the three stories into a whole, shuns sympathy altogether. It is the intertwining of plot and characters that unites three disparate journeys into one grand trip: three seemingly dissociative stories into a novel.
The reader gets to know all characters only as well as they come to know themselves and, slowly, each other. Chaon leaves little room for the reader to interpret characters' behavior or to second-guess their next steps. His control of plot and action is total. Yet he allows insight to his characters through masterful one-paragraph descriptions of the lives they are leaving behind. He does this repeatedly, concluding each with a simple phrase that, for the reader, is taut with "ah!"
Parallels among the three stories straighten to become truer, or less outside the reader, as the book progresses. Empathy for characters takes hold. Many reviewers have said that it is at about 2/3 of the way into the book that readers begin to see the plot writ large. So it is, yet the book's ending will surprise.
From its disassembled beginnings to its novelistic conclusion, the whole of this book exceeds its parts and delivers a mixed read of ease and tension. Its characters amuse and dismay. Its plot threads anxiety with justice. Imponderable situations become achingly familiar. Empathy discourages sympathy. A skillful blend of contradiction and resolve deconstruct reality as we think we know it to allow us to see it as others make and live it. Memorable.
40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
For me, Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply was a slow read. I agree with others that it is love-it-or-hate-it-book. So, who will love it and who will hate it is the real question.
If you like literary fiction and the minimally descriptive (but maximally thoughtful) prose style of Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, and Richard Russo, you will probably like this book. You will also come away happy if you really love character fiction. The characters in this book - three main characters - are well painted and very true-to-life, if not always personally compelling.
You may not like this book if you want someething plot-driven and -focused. All we get in the first two thirds are three seperate stories of three seperate characters and the promise that at some point, it will come together. The connections really only get made in the last third of the book, and the individual stories on their own are not that compelling until that happens. You also might not like this novel if you desire much action rather than interior monologue. It is not an exaggeration to say that many chapters - especially in the first two thirds - consist of something small happening to move the plot forward and the character remembering several years worth of memories, and then, maybe, something small happening.
So, the novel is slow going but mildly worth it at the end.
I enjoy both types of books. I enjoy literary chracter fiction, and action-driven plot fiction. Thus, I have to give the book three stars. If you lean more towards the one style than the other, this book may or may not be for you.
42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2009
I don't like to be scared, but the first chapter hooked me, and then I just fell deeper and deeper in, lost in the maze of identities that Chaon so deftly intertwines, desperate to find how who each character really was, even though I knew that with Chaon, the concept of true identity is not a plot device but an existential quagmire. I finished reading this book in less than 48 hours despite the interruptions of two children, work, and a dinner party. Don't start it unless you're on a long plane ride or you're prepared to ignore others for the duration, because it simply will not let you rest. It's a smart, relentless, terrifying book, and there's nothing trashy, cheap, or derivative about it. The references to Frankenstein are particularly well done, and despite its brilliance as a thriller, it's the most eloquent book about alienation that I've ever read.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2009
I read the first several pages a number of times feeling that something was wrong. I was trying too hard, and then I had one of those 'Aha!' moments. However, the road to weaving these seemingly three disparate journeys is dense, dark and filled with tense events. It was an uncomfortable read much like one of John Fowles' books was, for me, in another life.
Don Chaon introduces three main characters whose lives will ultimately interconnect. The reader first meets Ryan Schuyler, and what an introduction this is. I am sure that this is now imprinted in my memory. Ryan learns that he is adopted and decides to search for his birth parent.
Miles Chesire is an identical twin whose brother, Hayden, has been missing for a long time. Hayden is not well, and Miles feels compelled to search for him. Hayden is alleged to be brilliant while Miles seems to be an ordinary man.
Lucy Lattimore is dissatisfied with her life in a small town in Ohio. Soon after graduating from high school, she leaves town in the company of her former history teacher.
Reading this book was much like driving on a deserted country road on a foggy night. It is difficult to predict what, if anything, will jump into your path. At times, some of these characters, together with their quests, seem to be shadowy and opaque. Yet, one senses their discontent, their emptiness. It is all the more interesting a read since Don Chaon captures their moods with persuasive clarity. This is accomplished in a most uncanny and believable style. There were times when I felt as if I were exploring beings in another world.
If you enjoy solving puzzles, you will enjoy this book. There are enough clues to keep one glued to the very end. Even the most adept solver of puzzles will want to discover how Chaon achieves this staggering mastery of logistics. This was quite a read!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2010
I really enjoyed this book. I suppose that a big part of the appeal for me is that the concept of identity - who we are and how the world perceives us - is an idea that I find fascinating and always have. Even as young person I have always been intrigued by the notion that people can reinvent themselves. We do it everyday in small measure in our lives, choosing what information we share with others, exaggerating or downplaying past experiences when we tell anecdotes from our lives, or simply by emphasizing different aspects of our personalities in different social settings. We are constantly shaping the way people perceive us.
Of course many people actually create new personas with fake identities and fictional pasts. In some cases, they may have multiple `personalities' and each one of these can become entirely real to the person behind the façade. It reminds me of lyrics by Hole from the song Doll Parts: "I fake it so real, I am beyond fake."
This theme is central to Await Your Reply and it makes for stimulating reading. The novel revolves around a number of characters involved in identity theft. One character questions at one point in the novel whether or not leading multiple unexceptional lives could be equivalent to leading one great one.
Ultimately the novel succeeded for me because I found its exploration of the concept of identity to be so thought-provoking. But it is worth noting that the novel itself and its three converging story-lines move along at a steady pace (for contemporary literature). Readers will find themselves speculating on how the story-lines will eventually converge, compelling them to keep turning pages to see how things come together.
Fans of crime and suspense novels may find that the twists in Await Your Reply are not difficult to predict (they're pretty obvious - especially to anyone familiar with genre fiction) but I still found myself looking forward to the revelations that would come, even if I had a good idea where the story was going. The author does some interesting things with the timeline in this novel. The seemingly independent stories are told mostly in a linier fashion, but the story-lines themselves are not necessarily happening simultaneously.
This was a stimulating and insightful novel, understated but very effective. The prose is top caliber. The novel caught my attention right away and kept me turning pages. The characters were all interesting - even if, in life and fiction, we never really know who anyone is.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
AWAIT YOUR REPLY
This book reached out and grabbed me by the arm and never let me go until the very last word. What a trip! What a mind Dan Chaon has to create such an edgy thriller. When I wasn't able to be reading this book, I was thinking about it.
The reader is introduced to three main characters -- Miles Cheshire, Lucy Lattimore, and Ryan Schuyler. All of these people live separate lives, but they will each affect all of the others in this snarled web.
Miles has a twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for over ten years, and is a strange and troubled person to the point of being psychotic. As young boys Hayden was constantly in trouble, exhibiting outlandish behavior while Miles was the practically ideal son. Hayden lives in a make-believe world, and Miles participates out of love for his brother. Miles decides he needs to locate his long-lost brother -- but is that a good idea?
Lucy is a shy and awkward teen who lives with her unsocial older sister. Their parents are dead. Lucy feels out of touch with the world, hating her life and her sister. When her older teacher, George, shows an interest in her, she is flattered beyond belief and can't believe her good fortune. The two leave town together.
Ryan Schuyler lives a normal life until he learns some unsettling news. He decides to reinvent himself and takes off from his home town.
Each character tends to life a somewhat solitary and solo life until they are all tangled up with each other. The book is so well written and so suspenseful, full of twists, turns, dead zones, spins, curves, surprises, as well as many shocks. I couldn't turn the pages quickly enough.
The plot is so well thought out and so engrossing and very different from any book I have ever read. The tension is thick and no holds are barred -- there are deaths, secrets, shocking surprises; no rock is left unturned.
Does Miles ever locate his twin brother, Hayden? Does Lucy find true love with her former teacher turned lover, George? Is Ryan running from his life, only to bump into another part of his life that he never knew existed? Do any of these characters survive? Does Hayden want to be located by his brother or is he on the run of his life? Is anyone of these characters a cold blooded murderer, claiming victim after victim to suit his whims? Read this excellent book and find out.
I highly recommend AWAIT YOUR REPLY -- where people are not who you think they are, their lives are not what they thought they were, and the thrills and chills never stop. Reading this book is like walking down a long, dark corridor, holding your breath, trying to find the light, only to have someone GRAB you in the dark! Wonderful read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2010
This book defies description in conventional ways. One of the reviews on the back cover describes it as a "thriller" and it doesn't fit neatly into that description. This book is more of a psychological study. All of the characters that we're introduced to have a reason for walking away from their lives. To me the book was a study on the impulse, the decision or lack of decision making that leads these people to walk away and then the consequences of that decision, some of which the characters face dead on and some are clear by implication but the characters seem to convince themselves don't really matter. To me rather than a typical thriller where the evil is blatant and obvious, the book deals with the more subtle things, the belief in ones on superiority and that that superiority justifies almost anything, and to the contrary feelings of inferiority and lack of connection. It also deals with the loneliness and isolation that occurs from either perspective and the realization that running doesn't really change essential facts. My 3 stars is entirely subjective in that my personal preference is to read something more quickly moving and where the connections are a little more quickly made and more thoroughly resolved. Having said that, I thought this was a really interesting book and would recommend it.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Dan Chaon on a bad day is much better than many writers are on a GOOD day. And with Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon is having a very good day, indeed.
The book focuses on a trio of characters (that populate three sections in alternating chapters): there's Ryan, a Northwestern University student who finds out -- to his dismay -- that the identity he THOUGHT was his is really not; he is adopted and his "black sheep" uncle is really his father. Then there's Lucy, an aspiring girl on the verge of adulthood, whose fervent wish is to change her identity and run off with her charismatic high school teacher. And lastly, there's Miles -- the "good" twin whose identity is tied in with his schizophrenic and mysterious brother, Hayden, who wrecks havoc wherever he shows up.
Throughout the novel, Chaon explores the identity question and delves into identity theft -- literally and figuratively. He writes, "What kind of person decides that they can throw everything away and -- reinvent themselves. As if you could just discard the parts of your life you didn't want anymore...Sometimes, I think, well, that's where we are now, as a society. That's what people have become, these days. We don't value connection." These lines -- which occur half way through the book -- are key, I think, to an informed reading of it.
In Await Your Reply, EVERYONE reinvents themselves. Mothers and fathers are lost through death and desertion and outright reinvention. Identities are wiped away with a few clicks of a computer, a passport, or a careful hair dye job. Even those who stay true to their identity find that they are altered or changed by situations that they have little -- or any -- control over. When George Orson -- one of the key characters -- states, "I am many people. Dozens.", he is telling the truth on many different levels. The suggestion is that we all harbor many characters inside us, and that each of us can produce an unusually large harvest of lives.
I have read other novels on identity theft -- T.C. Boyle's very good Talk Talk comes to mind -- but this one seamlessly explores the big questions and yet provides a thrilling reading experience as well. Others may point to the fact that this is not a linear book -- it shifts from past to present and from character to character -- but I think it is one of the strengths of Chaon's writing. I will eagerly await the next book from this very gifted author.