"Who are you?" a confused character asks midway through Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon's beguiling novel about identity theft. The best answer comes from one of the book's six central characters, George Orson. "We can be anyone we want. Don't you realize that?" the Ohio schoolteacher says to Lucy, an 18-year-old high school student he has run away with to an abandoned motel in Nebraska.
A professor of fiction at Oberlin College, Chaon skillfully weaves together three distinct stories in his critically-acclaimed novel. The second story involves Jay and his newly-discovered adult son, Ryan, who we meet nearly bleeding to death after someone has cut off his left hand late one night in rural Michigan. The third plotline involves Miles, who drives more than 4,000 miles to the remote Arctic outpost of Inuvik in Canada in search of his long-lost twin brother, Hayden. Such stories initially seem unrelated. But as the characters crisscross the globe and the novel jumps back and forth in time, we gradually realize these people have a lot in common besides their desire to reinvent themselves. Quentin Tarantino and Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of Chaon's ingenious yet plausible plot twists.
Await Your Reply raises fascinating questions about personal identity that sound like they came straight out of the Matrix movies or Philip K. Dick novels if they had been set mostly in middle America. Are we who we are for life? Or can we truly transform ourselves as George tells Lucy? And if we can change and actually do so, who are we if we are no longer ourselves? Do our former selves cease to exist? Or are these old personalities simply set aside just in case someone else wants to become that person? If so, does that mean a personality can temporarily exist without a person?
Chaon has narrator Kirby Heyborne to thank for making such seemingly bizarre questions, plots, and characters sound plausible in this performance of Await Your Reply. Heyborne's meticulous tone perfectly matches Chaon's carefully chosen words. And, like many of the people in the novel, Heyborne has a mild-mannered way of speaking that gives the characters an innocent, honest quality. We instinctually believe everything Heyborne says because he sounds as honest as the Midwesterners he brings to life. Don't be fooled things are not always what they seem as we gradually discover in Chaon's slow-burning thriller hidden inside a high-minded house of mirrors. Ken Ross
Three strangers who are trying to find their way in the wake of loss become entwined in an identity theft scheme, which has a resounding impact on them all.
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.
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.
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.
A gorgeously written psychological study, and a meditation on identity in the modern world, this is a literary novel with the haunting momentum of a thriller.
©2009 Dan Chaon; (P)2009 Phoenix
"This novel's structure echoes that of his well-received debut - also a book of threes - even as it bests that book's elegant prose, haunting plot and knockout literary excellence." (Publishers Weekly)
Funny - or maybe not funny - but promising American writers like Dan Chaon tend to define literary realism as 'devoid of any human feelings aside from deep morbid depression.' Sure, it's well written, but each character that is introduced in Await Your Reply is less interesting and more dislikable than the last. There isn't a grain of humor in this book. If that is realism, let's have some fantasy.
I found the story and characters engrossing, and could not have been more delighted with the way Kirby Heyborne performed it. As he spoke for each of the characters, there were subtle, but noticeable changes in voicing and "melody." His reading supported and enhanced the text for me.
Chaon makes a main character, who is essentially a sociopath, human, which is to say never fully understandable, but utterly recognizable. The other characters, touched and often injured by this man seem as real as if I had actually met them. A nice blend of interior monologue, exterior interaction and beautiful writing. Reminded me of Michael Cunningham, whose work I also admire. Five stars.
Overall this book is very enjoyable. Not only is the story interesting, but Chaon offers up a series of scenarios that ask the question, sometimes a little heavy handed, of the true meaning of 'self.' Who are we? Are we really more than a name and a SSN? If people forget us, are we still alive?
One of the drawbacks of this book is that it takes a while to pull you in. The characters are not very lovable or interesting for the first 1/2 of the story, but once they truly begin to develop, you do start to care about them and are holding your breath to hear what happens next.
Be careful reading other reviews about this book...I did and some made comments about aspects of the story that I would have rather not known about. Just a friendly heads up.
If it weren't for Audible I'd never get any reading done.
This is an often depressing story--I would get to work after listening on my morning commute and just feel anxious all day. I could hardly go on at one point, but the thriller-style plot made me want to finish, and by the end I was very glad I'd persevered.
The narrator is only fair--he may have been picked because he could read the short passages in a Slavic language.
I have not read any Chaon books so did not know his style, but I enjoyed the way he told this story. It is not about "identity-theft" but rather the personalities of those who find themselves entwined in the lives of these identity thieves. They could have just as well been common criminals, but the fact they are identity thieves makes it more interesting and relevant to our time. The three main characters are involved, in one way or another, with these thieves in some dysfunctional manner because of a character flaw of his or her own.
It is a book that could studied, and essays written, about the characters and all of the symbolic references and so forth, upbringing, and what have you, about their lives and what leads them to become what they are. It is close to a five star on my scale.
Good choice if you want a psychological ride while peeking at an unfamiliar side of life. The pace is established from the very beginning and this is a book that could be listened to more than once.
Narration was good but not perfect.
This book kept my attention until the very last word. As other reviews have said, it reads like a thriller, although it's not. It's a powerful, thoughtful study of the psychology of identity and identity theft, and the people who perpetrate it. As the story weaves in and out of the lives of a handful of characters, including the relatives of the con artists, it raises issues of how each of us defines who we are -- as human beings and within the context of our family and society. It's also a study in deception - of others and of ourselves. It's one of those books that I'm almost sorry I 'read', because now I've lost the ability to experience it for the first time. I'll probably listen to it again anyway. I hope this author's other books are as good as this one. I just can't say enough good things about this book - and several professional reviewers have had a similar opinion. What an extremely satisfying read!
What a unique story with so many twists/turns. Have to pay attention to the story lines - This book is not just a passive read
It is unfortunately all too real today
His fluency in different languages and how he can relate the characters just by the type of voice he uses...
Lucy. Silly, silly girl.
Way too abrupt of an ending. Just as I was linking all the character, the story was over. I envisions at least another 2 events further for each group of characters. Hayden had so much more to do.
I found myself tuning out sometimes in this book because of I would forget who the minor characters were. Part of this was because I would take long pauses between listening. But the story of the main characters and the mystery of how they intertwine was suspenseful and entertaining.
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