Tuesday, February 15, 2011

{read: fiction} -- Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

The hip trend in novels these days (Great House by Nicole Krauss, Day for Night by Frederick Reiken) seems to be to combine several seemingly unconnected stories into a novel and then--the reader hopes--bring them all together at the end in some unexpected way. If they don’t connect, it feels like false advertising. A novel is different than a book of short stories, even if they are loosely connected, as in You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (review to come on this one!).

In Await Your Reply, author Dan Chaon does this better than any others I’ve read recently. He manipulates time and character in three different stories while exploring the murky world of identity theft. I had a small inkling of where he might be going but was still surprised when I got there. I read the final pages three or four times to try to put all the pieces together, and I wanted to start again from the beginning to find all the clues I had missed the first time through.

The story starts with Ryan, who is being rushed to the hospital because his hand has been cut off. We also meet Lucy, a high school student running away with her history teacher, and Miles, who has been searching for years for his missing twin brother and keeps coming up just one step behind. The curiosity to see how these disparate stories connect kept me turning the pages as the suspense began to build.

If you’ve read Great House or Day for Night and come away wishing for a stronger connection among the various characters, if you felt as though you invested valuable time and energy trying to put the puzzle together only to find out that the pieces you’re working with came out of three different puzzle boxes even though they all had cows in them, you won’t be disappointed by Await Your Reply. Chaon delivers on the implicit promise to bring the narrative together and ends the book with a punch. Daniel Pink (bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind) called it “a brilliant book.” I agree.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (Ballantine Books, 2009)
My rating: Five stars

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