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Await Your Reply: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – June 1, 2010
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The lives of three strangers interconnect in unforeseen ways--and with unexpected consequences--in acclaimed author Dan Chaon’s gripping, brilliantly written new novel.
Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.
A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.
My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself--through unconventional and precarious means.
Await Your Reply 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.
Amazon Exclusive: Dan Chaon on Await Your Reply
People sometimes ask me, "What was your inspiration for this book?" Which is a harder question to answer than you would think.
I always wish that a novel would just pop into my head, fully formed, laid out like a blueprint of a house, and all I had to do was follow the instruction manual. But it never seems to work out this way. Instead, it feels as if you got dropped off in some wilderness area with the vague knowledge of what a house looks like, and so you began to gather materials... rocks and acorns and pieces of wood and so forth. Will it all hold together? Keep your fingers crossed.
In the case of Await Your Reply, the building materials came from random and unpredictable places. I gathered inspiration from songs; from weird, sketchy images that I’d write down in a notebook. ("Possible plot: severed hand in ice cooler?"); from spam e-mails (one of which gave the book its title); from odd news items I came across (the drying-up of a lake in Nebraska where I spent many childhood vacations.)
And of course I got inspiration from books. Maybe more than from anything else, this book can trace its roots back to my childhood, to the stories and novels that I loved when I was a child. I grew up in a very tiny town in Western Nebraska, one of those villages of the great plains that grew up alongside the Union Pacific railroad line, with a tower of a grain elevator at the center and a little smatter of houses around it. Population, approximately 50. I was the only kid my age in town, and so I spent a lot of time by myself, "sitting around with my nose in a book," as my grandmother said.
My grandmother imagined that a healthy childhood involved a lot of running around coltishly and hearty eating and cheerful chore-doing. Maybe hunting rabbits in my spare time or building a treehouse.
Instead, I skulked about. I found a shady corner out by the lilac bushes, or in one of the abandoned sheds on our neighbor’s property, or in the high weeds and hills that lay out beyond town, and I stuck my nose in one unsavory book after another.
My grandmother wasn’t completely opposed to reading, but when she looked at the titles and covers of the books I liked, she frowned. Here was We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, about a lonely girl whose entire family was murdered; here was The Other by Thomas Tryon, about a boy and his evil twin. Here were stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Daphne Du Maurier, and anthologies that were ostensibly edited by Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful. Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery. Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories to Read with the Lights On. I can’t say why, exactly, I was drawn to such creepy, sinister stories, but I do remember how much I loved the sense of dread and anticipation they evoked, the way I myself longed for the urgency of hidden secrets, how much I liked the idea that the ordinary world was not really ordinary once you peeked below the surface.
As I got older, I read such books less and less. In college, I developed a taste for the short fiction of Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff and Alice Munro, and I gravitated toward the novels of Nabokov and Henry James and Julio Cortazar.
Still, I found myself turning back to those childhood favorites in recent years--not least because I had kids of my own, boys who were going through the same intense love of the creepy and sinister and fantastic. But I also felt as if I was reconnecting with old friends. If you’re an avid reader, and a book gets under your skin, it can affect you as intensely as a real human relationship, it lingers with you for your whole life, and there is always this desire to re-experience that amazing sense of connection you get from those authors you loved in the past.
Thinking back, I can see how Await Your Reply really started back in childhood--with that longing for mystery and suspense and secrets and surprises. In many ways, this novel is a love letter to those books that I couldn’t get enough of as a kid, and maybe a love letter to the kid that I once was. Here’s the book that I was vaguely dreaming about, though it’s also maybe a warning. Be careful what you wish for.--Don Chaon
(Photo © Philip Chaon)--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Three disparate characters and their oddly interlocking lives propel this intricate novel about lost souls and hidden identities from National Book Award–finalist Chaon (You Remind Me of Me). Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who's been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed their mother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle. Chaon deftly intertwines a trio of story lines, showcasing 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 with mesmerizing brilliance. This novel's structure echoes that of his well-received debut—also a book of threes—even as it bests that book's elegant prose, haunting plot and knockout literary excellence. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
Three characters set out on journeys that during the course of the novel converge. Miles is on a decade long search for his troubled twin brother, Lisa runs off with her history teacher and Ryan leaves college to find his real father. All three characters lack experience and are easily duped by the people they surrender control to.
A skillful, slightly creepy plot with Chaon's tight prose and well drawn characters meant that I found myself unable to stop reading, turning page after page as the link between the stories becomes apparent in ways that are unexpected and challenging. Chaon reserves the final twist for the last page.
A smart book and a great read.
Each story must be read for its own merits for true enjoyment. I did figure out some things a little over halfway through, but the author still managed to surprise me in the end.
The storyline got a bit convoluted at times with all of the long flashbacks. Some of these flashbacks were a bit awkward, happening in the middle of a conversation. However, by the end, the reader does have a clear picture of events.
I do think the book would have benefitted from a more clear timeline.
Character Development: 5 Stars
The character development truly carries this novel. The reader is introduced to each of the three main characters in dramatic ways. Then, the reader is pulled in with more and more details that bring these characters to life.
Writing Style: 5 Stars
I enjoyed the writing style of this author immensely. His prose flowed in an almost stream of conscious manner. It carries the reader gently, almost surreptitiously, through the story.
The descriptions were succinct, to the point. The dialogue was especially good, bringing forth conceptual realism.
Editing/Formatting: 5 Stars
The editing was great. The Kindle formatting was also very well done.
Rating: PG-13 for Adult Situations, Language
Besides the uniqueness of the timeline presentation, Chaon's book about identity theft and con games is presented through points of view I haven't come across in other novels of this ilk. We see the story through the eyes of victims who are drawn into schemes like moths to flame and whose lives are changed, if not ruined as a result. It's a fascinating perspective . . . and sobering.
I loved this novel.