four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
By: 
Dan Chaon
user_rating: 
0

A-Await Your ReplyThis is Dan Chaon’s second novel, following You Remind Me of Me (2004). Chaon’s short stories, collected in Fitting Ends and Among the Missing, have won many literary prizes.

The Story: Await Your Reply features three stories of isolated people abandoning their current lives and attempting to assemble new identities—often at the price of others. Ryan, adopted as a child, drops out of college and follows a man who claims to be his biological father into a career of petty Internet fraud. After graduating from high school, Lucy runs away with her curiously wealthy high school history teacher, hoping for a life of travel and romance. And Miles pursues his physically identical but mentally unstable twin to the ends of the Earth. While these three stories eventually converge, each in its own way makes a statement on the instability of identity in modern America.
Ballantine. 324 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780345476029

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"‘Who just abandons their family?’ one character asks midway through this finely honed novel, just as the three plots have begun to converge. … Americans love reinvention, of course, but Chaon’s suspenseful yarn smartly explores the consequences of this often romanticized obsession." Thom Geier

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Await Your Reply is an open tribute to [Chaon’s] favorite horror and science fiction writers. But what separates his novel from the latest Stephen King tome is that he never resorts to supernatural shenanigans. He locates the source of terror within his characters’ misguided dreams." Steve Almond

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Chaon succeeds in both creating suspense and making it pay off, but Await Your Reply also does something even better. Like the finest of his storytelling heroes, Mr. Chaon manages to bridge the gap between literary and pulp fiction with a clever, insinuating book equally satisfying to fans of either genre." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"These are engrossing, nerve-racking storylines that continually hand off to one another without breaking stride, leaving us as fascinated as we are disoriented. … Violence—gory, sexual, painful abuse—runs just beneath the surface, but Chaon usually maintains a coy deniability, never saying anything particularly threatening while making sure we suspect these characters are in deadly peril." Ron Charles

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"By Page 200, I was also completely hooked—a credit both to Chaon’s intricate and suspenseful plotting and to some of the most paranoid material to hit American literature since Don DeLillo’s White Noise. … But the George-Lucy plot never comes to life as the others do, because, for one thing, Lucy is a confusing character, at once hopelessly naïve (in her blind faith that, without any effort, a giant fortune will suddenly appear) and wise to the point of jaded." Lucinda Rosenfeld

Critical Summary

Critics were so enthralled by the many suspenseful turns of Await Your Reply that they were hesitant to spoil any of its thrilling scenes (which start on the first page with one of the most gruesome). Their few complaints about the believability of certain characters’ actions—the New York Times Book Review in particular faulted the Lucy story—were more than overcome by the overall strength of Chaon’s writing and clever plot. What particularly impressed them was the way Chaon created a novel that evokes the same kind of dread one feels from reading a good horror or science fiction novel without relying on any of the clichés from those genres. The result is a book that, by exploring the theme of reinvention, draws on many strands of the American literary tradition.