Thursday, February 16, 2012

REVIEW: Stay Awake, by Dan Chaon

Stay Awake, by Dan Chaon. Published 2012 by Random House.

I received a copy of Stay Awake via LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Dan Chaon's latest book, a creepy, crackling collection of short stories, will definitely keep you up past your bedtime. Chaon's novel Await Your Reply (link is to my review) was one of my favorite reads last year; a breathtaking, page-turning, stomach-churning suspense fest, I flew through it in about two days, and I had high expectations for his new book.

And those expectations were by and large met. If you were a fan of Await Your Reply you'll love this collection of edgy and just plain messed-up tales filled with dysfunctional, haunted, sad, confused and unhappy people in unhappy situations. It sounds miserable, I know, but Chaon's pared-down, just-enough style makes these stories riveting. My favorite stories were the first and last; in the first, "The Bees," Gene is a man with a secret who tries to make a go of traditional family life in the suburbs. When his past keeps bubbling up, an unwitting tragedy engulfs the family. In the last story, "The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White Hands," an omniscient narrator alternates between a solitary man and the adult children he once tried to kill. It's haunting and written like a poem; it gives me chills.

Chaon's writing is so hard to define; it's not quite horror but it's more than literary suspense. He creates vivid characters and settings, sometimes with terribly unsympathetic figures at the center of twisted and strange narratives- but no stranger than real life. In the story "I Wake Up," a young man named Robert is contacted by a woman calling herself Cassie and claiming to be his sister. She tells him bizarre tales of their childhood and other siblings but refuses to meet in person or send a photograph. Something about her stories doesn't quite add up, but Robert gets drawn in anyway and she forces him to think about the one person he wants to forget. Who needs caffeine with writing like Chaon's?

Rating: BUY

Stay Awake: Stories
by Dan Chaon

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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from LibraryThing.com.