Thursday, September 23, 2010

REVIEW: Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon. Published 2009 by Ballantine. Literary Fiction.

Await Your Reply was one of those books that kind of crept up on me. I was aware of it when it first came out and I found the premise intriguing- three interconnected stories about identity theft. I have a personal connection to the theme as my husband had his identity stolen by a man living under his name in New York City (later apprehended and now serving federal time) and I heard raves from readers for months after its release. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to read it but I never quite forgot about it either, and after a long while I picked it up for my ereader.

When I started though, I couldn't put it down and sped through it in about two days.

As I said the plot is based around a trio of linked narratives. It opens with a man rushing a younger man to the hospital after his wrist has been severed in a home invasion; gory and frightening with bullet-train momentum, the opening scene left me breathless. Of course I wanted to know who this young man is, why did this happen, and so on. The younger man, Ryan, is his uncle Jay's protege in crime; Jay and Ryan live in an isolated house in the woods, running small-time electronic scams to rob unsuspecting people. But they seem to run a lot of them, and Jay seems to be grooming Ryan somehow, teaching him the ropes.

Their story, like the others, moves back and forth through time so that piecing together the timeline is a crucial part of understanding the book as a whole. The next story is that of Lucy Lattimore, an unpopular high school girl who has an affair with her handsome teacher and runs away with him. His behavior becomes more and more bizarre until her smarts overcome her trust in him and she realizes what he's actually up to in that locked office of his. Finally there is Miles Cheshire, desperately searching for his missing twin brother Hayden, a mentally-ill genius who has left a trail of destruction all over the country.

Gradually the stories come together, and there are two major twists to the book, one I saw coming and one that hit me like that bullet train at full speed. Both, in their own way, knocked the wind out of me. Chaon has written an utterly compelling, utterly breathtaking character-driven thriller whose solution resembles a jigsaw puzzle less than those posters you stare at until you see the sailboat or whatever. I read the book almost nonstop over a single weekend and regretted every moment I was forced to put it down for things like meals and sleeping. When it was over I read the first few chapters again, just to see what I saw now that I understood what I was looking at, and it's something that's stayed with me long after I put it down for good. Oh, and the writing is superb.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.