Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is one of those books that got a lot of buzz last year, so much so that I had mixed feelings: was it that good, or was it overhyped? It certainly had a long line at the library, so I put my name on the queue and forgot about it, until it showed up last week.
Side note: I kinda wish the library queue was like Netflix--when I have a certain amount of books checked out already, it freezes all my other requests. I don't do a very good job of managing the library list and frequently end up with books with long waitlists that I have to race through while trying to read other things. Add to that the fact that I usually use the library for books I'm not sure I'm going to like--and I'm frequently correct about that--the library sometimes ends up being a negative experience for me. That's not really fair to the poor library. I'm lucky enough to live in a county with a strong, vibrant library. So I need to stop whining and start managing my queue better.
OK, so, Await Your Reply showed up, I groaned because I was in the middle of other books and projects, and reminded myself that I didn't have to give it more than 50 pages.
Yet here I am, a few days later, the book done--all other books abandoned while I read this one--and I'm feeling slightly stunned.
I'm not 100% sure how to describe it. It's kind of a mystery, or thriller, and there's a wonderfully menacing undertone to the story. But it's so much more than that. It's a very character-driven story, with three separate narratives: the story of Miles, searching for his long-missing troubled twin brother Hayden; Lucy, a recent high school graduate who has left her hometown with her former high school history teacher; and Ryan, who makes a break with his college life to reinvent himself entirely.
The concept of reinvention is a major theme in this book. All the major characters--and some of the secondary ones too--are engaged in redefining themselves. Or if not actually changing, they're reflecting on how their lives have lead them to this point, and what they might have been if their lives had been different. That sounds incredibly trite, which the book isn't, but to give more details would require spoilers, and I'd rather not do that. Just read this book and see for yourself.
One of the best comparisons was made by Girl Detective, who said that this book reminded her of the movie Memento. True, that.
And the writing is terrific. Here's Lucy, reflecting on a stop in Nebraska:
"Nebraska was even worse than Ohio--if such a thing were possible. There was a soundlessness about this place, she thought, though sometimes the wind made the glass in the windowpanes hum, the wind running in a long exhaled stream through the weeds and dust and dry bed of the lake, and sometimes unexpectedly there would be a very startling sonic boom over the house as a military place broke the sound barrier, and there was the rattle of the grasshoppers leaping from one weed to the next--
But mostly it was silence, a kind of end-of-the-world hush, and you could feel the sky sealing over you like the glass around a snow globe."
Await Your Reply comes out in paperback next week, and I think I'm going to pick it up, read it again, really look hard at how Chaon constructed this story and created these characters. Interestingly, the covers are quite different. The hardcover:
The paperback is kinda lurid. I think I prefer the hardcover, which fits the story very well too. Those of you who've read it, what did you think?