I finished reading Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply two weeks ago, and it wrecked me. I haven’t been able to read more than ten pages in any book since, which kind of makes sense considering Chaon’s novel is so fucking good it blew my mind.
This is the kind of novel that when I sit back and think about it (and I do it a lot lately since everything else I read makes me think, gee whiz, this isn’t Await Your Reply) my heart beats a little differently in my chest and I sigh dreamily.
To say Await Your Reply is a novel about the Internet or Identity feels a little dismissive, even though those descriptors are accurate. The book is also about family and how you define your family; brotherhood; sisterhood; self-definition; and trust.
Chaon illustrates his ideas through the interweaving stories of three people, Miles Chesire who has traveled to the upper reaches of Canada searching for his schizophrenic genius twin brother Hayden; Ryan Schuyler a twenty-year-old college-dropout living with the biological father he just met in the backwoods of Michigan and running identify theft scams; and Lucy Lattimore, a just-graduated high schooler who is skipping her small Ohio town with her Maserati-driving history teacher.
While each segment carries its own weight in the over-arching story, the Miles/Hayden twin brothers arc is by far the most intriguing. It’s here where Chaon seems to have the most fun playing with language and our minds. Miles’ quest to find his brother is the strongest, most readable because he seems to be the only character with any direction. Plus, Hayden, the estranged brother is one of those characters who intermittently seems like an evil genius and a poor victim and is probably a little bit of both.
Lucy and Ryan, are both incredibly young and do stupid things because they’re young. Their struggle to find themselves, come of age so to speak, in the shifty sands of increasingly harder to define identity is interesting, but it still feels like the sort of thing all late-teens and early twentysomethings go through. It’s only when Lucy and Ryan’s story dovetails into Miles’ story that their plight seems to take on real significance.
There’s a lot of writerly hijinks going on here to make this suspense novel work, and Chaon makes it work in a way that not only makes sense, but doesn’t make the reader feel like they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes. The fact that he’s pulled this off in a way that is so satisfying is amazing.
This is one of those books, kind of like Philip Roth’s Everyman that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. Chaon makes you question what it is you use to define yourself and how ephemeral so many of the things we think of as making up our identity are.