'Await Your Reply': Dan Chaon's novel of shifting identity
Dan Chaon's new novel, "Await Your Reply," tells a story of manipulation and the recasting of identity, as the wayward lives of two men and a woman converge toward a startling conclusion.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Await Your Reply"
by Dan Chaon
Ballantine Books, 320 pp., $25
The only two people who seem vaguely trustworthy in Dan Chaon's latest novel, "Await Your Reply," are a girl who has run off with her high-school teacher and a college student who lets his family believe he killed himself.
But figuring out whom to believe is part of the work for reader and character alike, in this book centered on manipulation and the recasting of identity.
There's Ryan, who, once he finds out he was adopted, lets everyone else in his life believe he is dead. He knows his father, Jay, is involved in some kind of criminal activity, and yet Ryan flies around the country in disguise, moving money for his dad. There's 18-year-old Lucy, who has fled a dismal life in Pompey, Ohio, for the unknown with history teacher George Orson. She lands at a remote motel in Nebraska, where she realizes she doesn't really know who Orson is. And there's Miles, who sacrifices much of his young adult life in the perpetual search for his mysterious and possibly schizophrenic twin brother, Hayden.
At first, the characters don't seem to share much in common. But eventually they are tied together by the idea of reinvention, with the help of modern online identity theft and old-fashioned disguises. As Orson says to Lucy: "We can be anybody we want."
In the first half of the novel, it's not easy to relate to the choices Ryan, Lucy and Miles make, particularly when their connection to each other is unclear and pacing wavers between brisk and sluggish. Chaon's characters occupy an isolated reality, and it's easy to wonder about their intentions, and sometimes their mental stability.
But once the revelations start, the plot moves swiftly as the three are swept up in one linear path to a startling conclusion. Chaon creates a world that is riveting in its distance from the ordinary, though it's one that most of us would prefer to enter only through the pages of a book.
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