- Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, read by Kirby Heyborne
- 9 CDs
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): Three strangers who are trying to find their way in the wake of loss become entwined in an identity theft scheme, which has a resounding impact on them all. At once a gripping pageturner, a gorgeously written psychological study, and a meditation on identity in the modern world, this is a literary novel with the haunting momentum of a thriller.
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. …
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. …
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. …
Where and when does it take place: The novel is set in around the present day (no dates or references to current events are given, but there are clues like cell phones and internet cafes). Scenes are set in places as disparate as a cabin in the Michigan woods, a suburb of Detroit, Africa, an abandoned motel in Nebraska, and a research station in the Northern Territories.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: I enjoyed Await Your Reply – it was clever, with incredibly detailed backstory. In fact, since the main theme of the book revolved around identity and identity theft, I often found myself wondering if a particularly elaborate backstory scene was important, or simply a red herring that Chaon was using to throw me off.
There are three stories that eventually braid together. I think. There’s not a definite conclusion; which was okay for me, but I know it will make some readers crazy with unanswered questions. And I say eventually because it did take me a while to get attached to the three stories and become invested in how they might interrelate.
The three protagonists are: Miles Cheshire who is looking for his twin brother, Hayden; Lucy Lattimore, an orphaned teenager who has her hopes set on Harvard but ends up “running away” with her high school teacher; and Ryan Schuyler, who wonders who he can trust after learning a big secret about his parentage.
Just as I was getting hooked into one storyline, the narration would change to one of the other characters. This was frustrating at first, but I accepted it as one of the devices Chaon used to keep us guessing. I also was thrown by the timelines, wondering if events happened in the order they were presented, if they occurred concurrently, or if Chaon was shuffling them around.
I was most curious about Lucy’s story – she is living in the care of her older sister, Patricia, an eccentric who works at the local Circle K convenience store and keeps pet rats. When Lucy and George Orson, her history teacher, decide to leave town, they drive his Maserati to The Lighthouse Motel in the ghost of a former resort town in Nebraska. The lake/reservoir has dried up, leaving docks which lead to weeds; abandoned corner stores and private homes paint an eery landscape. These are the wacky details that pepper the novel, and I loved them.
Bottom line: incredible writing, and I’m glad I read/listened to it (and will read/listen to more from this talented author). I don’t know if the ambiguous ending is standard for Dan Chaon, but I would caution you about it in the case of Await Your Reply, if you’re the type to be unfulfilled by this.
Why did I listen to it: I had had Await Your Reply on my shelf for a while, but hadn’t yet had a chance to crack it open. When I saw it on audio at my local library, I took the opportunity to listen to it on the treadmill (yes, a good motivator … sometimes I stayed with just one character’s story for my 3-mile walk, sometimes the narration would take me to visit two or three of the story threads). Dan Chaon has a new collection of short fiction (Stay Awake, out February 7, 2012), and I really wanted to get to Await Your Reply before picking up his new book. Yay, all clear for an excuse to buy another book!
A few favorite passages: I didn’t make any notes as I walking and listening. But, these are the first few paragraphs of the novel … what an opening, huh?!:
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.
There’s a longer excerpt of Await Your Reply in this 2009 article from the New York Times (and one that will give you a peek at the three main storylines).
What else can I add: I see that Kirby Heyborne is one of the narrators for Heft, which I *loved* in print — if you’re an audiobook listener, I’d feel comfortable recommending the Heft audio to you (even without hearing it myself).
Now, I must read more of Dan Chaon – but do I start with Stay Awake, or go back to his earlier short stories or novels? I’m a glutton at the buffet of good writing!