January 11, 2010

BOOKS: Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon (2009)

Ryan has just learned that the man he believed was his uncle is actually his father. In shock, he leaves his campus, catches a bus out of town, and disappears; the authorities believe him to be dead.

Lucy, fresh out of high school, is thrilled to be leaving her small Ohio town with her history teacher, and significantly less so when they wind up holed up in an abandoned motel in an even smaller Nebraska town. This is not the glamour and excitement she had looked forward to.

Miles is, once again, on the road in search of twin brother Hayden, who has been missing for ten years, only occasionally popping up with a postcard or a phone call. Miles keeps chasing these tenuous trails, only to find Hayden long gone by the time he gets there.

These three stories of identities lost and found, of personalities discarded and reinvented, are very cleverly woven together by Chaon; the sharp reader will see some of the connections coming, but not all. Chaon misleads us in a variety of ways, not the least of which is simply to allow us to make a host of unfounded assumptions.

The pacing is excellent here; just as one set of characters might begin to wear out their welcome, Chaon jumps back to another story. It's a thrilling ride, watching them struggle to make their way forward with options increasingly limited by circumstances and poor planning. (I particularly felt for poor Lucy, who flees Nowhere only to land in Outer Nowhere.) You'll find yourself wanting to back up and read again, just to see which connections you'd missed along the way. A delightful, clever novel.

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