Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

December 3, 2010

Plot synopsis (from the publisher): The lives of three strangers interconnect in unforeseen ways–and with unexpected consequences–in acclaimed author Dan Chaon’s gripping, brilliantly written new novel.

Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.

A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.

My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself–through unconventional and precarious means.

Warning: Spoilers below!!!

Liked:

  • Two out of the three storylines were pretty interesting. I liked the stuff about Lucy and George (at least for a while), and thought the Ryan storyline picked up towards the end.
  • The identity theft scam was intriguing. I wanted to know more about it, though, and wish Chaon had described more of the details involved. All the author said was that Ryan was stealing identities by getting driver’s licenses from recently deceased people (presumably). But how did that lead to any money? Did it involve cashing in on fake life insurance quotes or policies? Did it involve taking out credit cards in the dead people’s names and then getting cash advances before ditching the cards? That’s what I wanted to know.
  • The novel was pretty suspenseful, especially in the middle after Chaon started dropping more clues about how the storylines tied together. I definitely wanted to get to the end to see what happened.
  • I liked how Ryan’s storyline turned out. He seemed like a decent (albeit misguided) kid, so it was cool to think of him living in South America with some money at his disposal. He’ll think of Jay less and less as time goes on, and will hopefully have a good life.

Disliked:

  • Miles and the hunt for Hayden was boring and ground the action to a halt whenever the focus shifted in that direction. I realize this part had to be there in order to shed light on George Orson/Jay, but I didn’t think it was well executed at all.
  • The part where Ryan got his hand cut off was all kinds of disgusting. Wow. I’m not saying that scene shouldn’t have been in the book; just that it’s one I personally did not care for. Oh — and poor Ryan.
  • The ending was a bit anticlimactic. Why didn’t we get to see what happened to George/Hayden? I suppose we should assume he was killed, but why? Who were the Russians and why were they after him? How did they know who he was? Yeah, it had something to do with the identity theft stuff, but what? And what about Lucy? Was she able to make it back home? She had all that money from the pages of the book and she had her new passport, so probably. And what did she do after that? Live with Patricia and work at the Circle K too?

Rating:

I read lots of very positive reviews of Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, and was eager to try it. (As a side note, this title has the distinction of being the first one read on my new Sony Reader Pocket Edition, and was a free checkout from the library.) I could definitely see some literary merit in the work and liked many parts of the book. But ultimately the story fell flat for me, and the ending was rather unsatisfactory. I give the book 3 stars out of 5.

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