Stay Awake by Dan Chaon – A Book Review

I’m a Dan Chaon fan.  His unusual ideas and interwoven plots are typically a pleasure to read.  It’s true that his work characteristically tackles difficult subject matter, but I’ve never been outright disturbed by his stories … until now.

For me, Stay Awake proved a grueling read.  Not because it’s badly written – that’s not the case at all.  Chaon is an excellent writer.  No, it’s because this book is dark – extremely dark.  Chaon’s too classy to go for the gratuitous.  It’s the suggestiveness within the book, those horrific details stated matter-of-factly that put me on edge.  Babies die.  Mother’s die.  Children die.  People get hurt.  People suffer.  And it’s not just one of the stories where these things happen … it’s all of them.

Perhaps it’s testament to Chaon’s skill that he consistently ravaged my nerves.  I’ve read stories such as these before, but they never felt so real … so … personal.  Chaon’s characters, though we barely know them at all, are living, breathing people that easily could live next door to us.  Maybe it’s because his characters are so universal that his writing dug so deep.  For an entire book, he reminds us that tragedy can strike at anytime to anyone.

So did I like the book?  No, quite honestly, I did not.  However, I like Dan Chaon very much, and I like virtually everything else he’s written very much.  For me to say I didn’t like Stay Awake is not an attack on the book itself, for I admit I am not being objective.  I admit the subject matter disturbed me and agitated my own fears.  As a result, I truly didn’t want to finish it (though I obviously did).

Stay Awake is well written.  It does everything from a technical standpoint that you would expect from a writer of Chaon’s caliber.  Its characters are identifiable and interesting.  Its plots are unusual and provocative.  It will probably trouble you.

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Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon – A Book Review

With Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon has created a mesmerizing novel that keeps the reader guessing from one page to the next.

I’d always considered Chaon a “literary” author, but with Await You Reply, he expertly delves into “genre,” delivering a suspenseful mystery that endlessly satisfies.  Chaon raises intriguing questions about identity, and also provides a psychological thriller that still has me scratching my head.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact nature of Await Your Reply, and I think that’s a good thing.  When all is said and done, all you need to know is that this is a well-crafted, skillfully written novel with engaging, identifiable characters and a plot that simply won’t be ignored.

For those of you already familiar with Chaon, Await Your Reply is thematically similar to previous works, but it’s supercharged in a way the others aren’t.  If you haven’t had the privilege of reading Chaon before now, Await Your Reply is the perfect book for which to begin.

You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon – A Book Review

You Remind Me of Me is a novel that slowly worms its way into the very fabric of your being.  Chaon’s characters are so flawed and utterly human that the reader can’t help but accept them as part of everyday reality.

Chaon also plays with chronology and perspective to the point that the book almost feels like a puzzle, which mirrors the theme perfectly.  The structure of You Remind Me of Me demands both patience and concentration from the reader, and that’s not a bad thing.

The story itself revolves around several characters that, as the plot progresses, are inextricably linked through the circumstances of conventional misfortune.  There are no unbelievable coincidences in You Remind Me of Me, for as the story unfolds, Chaon is careful to keep everything strictly within the bounds of reality.

Because of the jumps in time and narrative, this book didn’t “wow” me right off the bat.  Early on, I wasn’t sure what was going on, and had trouble investing in it as a result.  However, as I kept going, plot points began connecting, and at that moment I realized the magnificent craftsmanship that went into You Remind Me of Me.  Furthermore, it revealed itself as a deeply engaging story.

You Remind Me of Me is a rare blend of creative structuring and captivating story.  If you have patience and don’t mind a little brain tickling, I know you’ll enjoy You Remind Me of Me.

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon – A Book Review

This National Book Award finalist is a short story collection by an author I was not familiar with.  As usual, my friend Tom, known for helping meet quality authors, brought him to my attention literally on my thirtieth birthday.  I am so glad he did.

My initial reaction to the short stories in this novel was somewhat negative as I thought here we had yet another author working through his issues from childhood.  However, while many of his stories still strike me as such, they really are pleasurable to read.  I think the author’s technique is what I find so attractive about this work.

His stories are completely relatable.  We’ve all felt, experienced, or imagined at least on a peripheral level the plights of his characters, and so it is not terribly difficult for us to become personally invested in them.  And trust me, some of these stories we will be quite humiliated to find familiar. 

Another talent the author has is the ability to make us feel as though we’ve gone on an epic voyage by the end of one of his short stories, yet we then realize it was only a few pages long!  I think some writers have an intangible quality that sets them apart from other authors and Chaon’s is certainly the skill to give us a total and complete story without telling us hardly anything at all. 

I really enjoyed this book and if you like reading short story collections I think Chaon will satisfy.