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.
on September 22, 2009
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
on June 19, 2012
A work that I believe has been mistakenly characterized as a simple identity theft novel, rather it seems to me that this mesmerizing story by Dan Chaon is more a deep study into the psychosis of greed and the use of technology to achieve those ends. Brilliantly intertwining three disparate storylines until they converge into one, Chaon pens a smart and elegant mystery that works on a scale much larger than the average NYT bestseller because of its profound character development. Creating believable personage in works of fiction is one thing but to have these characters then draw an introspection and insightfulness on this level is the work of a major author and Chaon appears to have that quality in abundance.
Most criticisms of this work surround the fact that it seems to jump rapidly from subject to subject and lose focus in one particular area while tangentially soaring into another...my belief is that this fractured storyline is what gives this book its eeriness and provocativeness. The rapid and discontinued flow are wonderfully tied together later and although the subject is identity theft, I think this analysis could be brought to bear on any avenue of criminality...Chaon is that good at diving into the inner workings of the mind and coming up with some startling conclusions pertaining to its criminal justification, all the while keeping this contemporary ID theft angle particularly interesting...it really is scary how many ways one can `disappear' and `reappear' under completely different circumstances today.
Without giving away too much, we have a high school teacher and one of his students falling in love while abandoning their middle class Ohio town for the promise of a more glamorous life. We have a young college student dropping out of Northwestern University upon discovering that his real father is nearby and only fifteen years older than he and we see a pair of thirty-ish twins, one schizophrenic and brilliant, the other `normal' involved in an emotional battle of sorts with the `normal' one attempting the other's rescue. The identity theft disorder enters this complex storyline throughout and becomes the protagonist as we delve deeper into the story...each section dealing resolutely with the nature of the crime and its meaning and also what it is doing to themselves and loved ones/society.
As stated, I particularly thought Chaon's character development and his literary abilities were brilliant...not many authors could write a book like this, I'd wager. His sentences seemed at once utilitarian and beautifully lucid with the storyline being, although somewhat fractured, well organized nevertheless. For an overall summary, I would say that I enjoyed this work immensely with my only criticism, which matches some of the others here, being that the ending became admittedly short changed, especially given all the care and detail that went into the development. Still though I wouldn't have a problem recommending this as an important literary experience and I certainly look forward to Chaon's other work in the future.
on October 3, 2013
This is my first Dan Chaon, and it gripped me, hard, even after I thought I had a clear line on the three strands of narrative Chaon juggles without ever fully allowing them to entwine in the manner of conventional novels. (I will confess, however, that a trip to the the book's amazon.com page almost wrecked it for me, not because of any spoiler a reader mentioned, but because of OTHER BOOKS THAT CAME UP IN THE SEARCH for copy of Await Your Reply! [I was reading a library book.] I'll say no more.)
Await Your Reply is is a curious kind of noir lost-and-found road novel, with characters that seem animated versions of Edward Hopper's lonely down-and-outs, running to and fro on meager budgets, across the United States and off, at one point, to Abidjan, capital of the beautifully named Cote d'Ivoire. The book concerns itself, as the jacket tells you, with identity theft, almost, at points, meditatively, but also with searching, a lot of searching - for the American dream, for lost friends and relatives, for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - and ultimately finding...but finding just what, I won't say: you have to read the book.
And you should. Chaon is a talented writer who sets a scene well, has a keen eye, and possesses the rhetorical powers to impart to the reader, through sparing but deft use of metaphor and the ability to compose a terse, attractive line, a shared sense of what he envisions. He's a bit of a philosopher as well, but one that writes with a particular gift for setting a scene a-tingle with an implicit sense of menace. And then... Well, you do have to read the book.
I was somewhat let down in the end, and it would be a clear spoiler to say why. (That so short a novel presents so many spoiler opportunities is a credit to the ingenuity of the author!) But to that very end, I was delighted to be on the road with Dan Chaon and his curious cast.
A man searches fruitlessly for his twin brother, whose been missing for 10 years. A new high school graduate embarks on an adventure with her former history teacher and ends up in an abandoned motel in the middle of Nebraska. A young college student receives shocking news and ends up being mistakenly pronounced dead ... so he decides to just go with it. The fates of these three people run parallel throughout the book before crashing together in unexpected ways.
Reading this book is akin to throwing the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in the air and having it assemble itself before landing, with all the pieces fitting neatly together. It was a nifty little trick that Chaon pulled off in this book, and I was impressed. I will admit that I struggled while reading to figure out what the heck was going on ... how exactly did these three seemingly unrelated stories fit together? Chaon keeps the puzzle pieces up in the air for most of the book, but when it all starts fitting together, there is an "aaaah" moment that made it a fun and satisfying reading experience. If you enjoy intricately plotted stories that have sinister and dark undertones, this is the book for you!
on January 5, 2012
The first few chapters are a good hook for the book but after that the story really falls apart. There are just too many plot holes and unbelievable circumstances to make this plausible. The ending leaves much to be desired. I kept waiting for more action, more plot exposition but towards the end I was just waiting for the book to end.
I was left thinking "that's it?" Not a good way for your reader to feel. I would definitely pass on this book.