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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I'm Reading: Await Your Reply

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon was on may best lists for 2009 and I now know why.  I loved this book! I loved the story, the style, and the tone.  But what I loved most is that Await Your Reply is a great example of a book that cannot be described by its plot.  This book is all about its appeal.

The plot is pretty simple.  There are three stories of three different people who are searching for someone or something.  The novel is also comprised of 3 sections.  In Part 1, each of the three "stories" is quite separate.  Each chapter follows one of the stories, alternating for the entire section.

In Part 2, little parts of each story start to blend together.  Terms, places, names, etc... repeat in what were once separate narratives.  This makes you uncomfortable as a reader, leading to a chaotic and violent ending to Part 2.

Are you with me? I still have Part 3 to describe, but I do need to mention that this layered story telling style means Await Your Reply needs to be read in just a few sittings in order for you to best enjoy the unsettling tone Choan is consciously constructing.

Okay, back tot he novel. Part 3 rounds out the novel and by its conclusion everything is explained. For the surviving characters things are happy, but open ended. There is a big twist in Part 3 which explains why everything is so unsettling and confusing, but I will not ruin it here. Let's just say you should think outside the box if you want to figure it out.

Await Your Reply is an unsettling reading experience. The plot twists and turns on itself. There is a nightmarish tone throughout.  For example, the book opens with a boy whose hand has just been cut off and we don't return to that scene until the very end of Part 2. A sense of dread permeates this novel from the first sentence and grabs hold of you for the entire book.  But, you also cannot stop, compulsively turning the pages to see what is going to happen.

I realize that I have not given many plot details.  This is because I don't want to give anything away, but if you like the style and tone I am describing, you will like this book.

Identity is also huge theme here.  Who are we? Are we really more than just our name? Is identity fluid or is it static? I know, deep stuff, right? But if this theme is of interest to you, again, read this book.

I don't usually gush about a book this much, so I will finish by saying if you want an original story that combines literary fiction and psychological suspense, read Await Your Reply.

3 Words That Describe This Book: compelling, layered, unsettling

Readalikes: In the acknowledgments, Chaon mentions many of his favorite authors who inspired him throughout his life and to whom he paid homage to in this book.  A few of these really work as readalikes for this specific book and I would like to point them out here. Ray Bradbury, Patricia Highsmith, and Peter Straub would all be good choices if you liked Await Your Reply.

Also, Chaon's style of telling his story in interconnected pieces with a focus on family (and just general) dysfunction is very similar to The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

The novels of Chang-Rae Lee, a renowned Korean American writer, are also very similar in tone, style, and theme to the work of Dan Chaon.

Books about mental illness, identity theft, and computer fraud could also be of interest to readers of Chaon's book.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Thank you SO MUCH for your great review - I reluctantly put this on my "to-read" list recently, thinking it sounded intriguing but not too sure about it. Now I'll move it up to the top. : ) It sounds like I'd really get into it.