Tag Archives: Dan Chaon

Review: Stay Awake

Stay Awake

Stay Awake (stories)
By Dan Chaon
(Ballantine Books, Hardcover, 9780345530370, February 2012, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Reading this collection of short fiction is like walking into a dream only to experience extreme consciousness. It’s unyielding in the most satisfying way.

The Rest of It:

I used to reserve the reading of short fiction for very specific times. For instance, short story collections are perfect for the nightstand as they are easy to pick up and put down right before bed. They are also great for work when you don’t have quite enough time to delve into that novel you’ve been reading.

However, my feelings about short fiction have changed over the year and I attribute that to collections like this one. This is not a collection that you pick up and immediately put down. It’s a collection that once started, you can’t help but continue with. I found myself making time for it and that’s not my usual routine when it comes to short fiction. For one, the writing is impressive. Tight prose and beautifully constructed sentences certainly help, but the stories are amazing.

So what’s it about? The stories in this collection include characters who are searching for that elusive something and they happen to be doing it from a questionable state of consciousness. Are they awake? Dreaming? Hovering somewhere between this life and the next?

In one story, a man feels extreme guilt over the separation of a Siamese twin, in another, a  man tries to understand his son’s night terrors and how they relate, if at all, to the child he abandoned years before. All of the characters are unsettled and anxious and there is a suspenseful thread that weaves itself between these stories. That same, tenacious thread wraps itself around you and demands your attention from beginning to end.

This is a riveting collection of fiction, steeped in isolation and loneliness. It’s not a collection of “happy little stories” but it’s a collection that begs to be read and contemplated. Although not technically a collection of short fiction, I felt the same way about Chaon’s novel Await Your Reply which I  enjoyed very much. You really can’t go wrong with either book. Both are examples of solid, atmospheric writing, which is what I typically enjoy.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.
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Review: Await Your Reply

Await Your Reply

Await Your Reply
By Dan Chaon
(Ballantine Books, Paperback, 9780345476036, June 2011, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

Identity and self are of importance here, yet it’s an identity other than their own that drives these characters. The inability to accept who they are is the main focus of this tragic tale.

The Rest of It:

In a collection of seemingly, unrelated stories, a group of characters come together in unexpected ways. Miles goes on a quest to find his missing brother, Hayden. Hayden is afflicted with mental illness and although Miles is well aware that anything could have happened to him, he somehow senses that Miles has gotten himself into trouble. Ryan is a young man going nowhere. He receives a call from his birth father Jay, who he originally thought to be his uncle, and decides to join him in his life of crime. Lucy, a recent high school grad, decides to take off with George, her high school history teacher to live in an abandoned mansion in Nebraska.

Interwoven between these stories is an email scam that is all too familiar in this day and age. The old phishing scam where someone emails you to tell you that you’ve been left millions of dollars and that all they need is your personal information. This is where the title of the book comes into play.

As the story plays out, and the relationships between these characters make more sense, you can’t help but feel sorry for these people. None of them are particularly likable and none of them are strong enough to pull themselves out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. They are a miserable group of people, depressed in different ways, yet depressed just the same. Their desire for a better life tugs at the heartstrings because they are so real. So desperate and so real.

This is one of those quiet books that forces you to consider the human soul and its desperation and utter loneliness. It’s bleak. True. Yet hope exists, it’s just a tad out of reach for these characters and their struggle to find it is what keeps you reading.  Dan Chaon knows people and is not afraid to expose all of their insecurities. This is what I appreciated most about this novel. His ability to expose all of their vulnerabilities in a realistic way. Overall, a very satisfying read.

Source: Borrowed from the library.

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