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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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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?
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.