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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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