Books: Await Your Reply

by anneMoore on May 19, 2010

Dan Chaon’s “Await Your Reply” (2009) is a beautifully told and highly compelling tale about identity: losing one, stealing others, gaining another (and another, and another). It’s rare that I finish a book and want to start reading it again, to figure out how the author pulled off such a clever feat of storytelling.

This book haunts.

Chaon gives us three narratives that eventually merge. We first meet college student Ryan as he’s losing consciousness, comforted by his father. Ryan’s hand has just been sliced off by some thugs. Next, we meet Lucy Lattimore, who has ditched her small-town life in Ohio with George Orson, her high school history teacher. Miles Cheshire is the third leg; he’s on a quixotic drive to the Arctic Circle in search of his identical twin, Hayden, who’s clinically insane. (It’s a 4,000 mile drive: who’s the crazy one?)

I was hooked by all three but I confess a fondness for Lucy, a dumpy orphan who blossoms under the tutelage of her older, wiser lover. Theirs is the most Gothic of the three stories: George takes her to his family’s home, a Victorian house beside a shuttered motel, on the banks of a dried-up lake. There he hides himself in the study, with computers and a wall safe. Lucy, like any out-of-place teenager, watches t. v. and eats poorly. Even she gets bored with that routine. When George leaves her alone too long, she has to snoop — and what she finds in the safe turns her into a player.

It’s a dangerous game.

I liked Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me” (2005) but had a hard time recommending it because it was so sad. In it, a young man whose face was scarred by the family’s dog sets off to find his brother, who was given up for adoption as an infant. The scarred brother has spent his whole life with the mother who regrets her decision. Beautifully written, but heart wrenching.

“Await Your Reply” will find a larger audience. It’s not a thriller, but its characters will keep you in their grip.

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