Monday, February 15, 2010

Cannonball Read S2: Book 2-Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Editor's Note: I apologize for the lack of posting, I'll get into a more frequent routine within the next couple of weeks, but for now, I'm catching up on my Cannonball Reading.

Await Your Reply is a multi-layered, fast paced, and truly compulsive read. By tying together three different plot lines, Chaon invents a very tightly knit ensemble drama/thriller centered around one central concept-the consequences and risks of changing your identity. It starts out with a horrifying act of violence, and tension slowly builds to a very loud final twist. Arguably, the best thing about Reply is how the central themes, isolation and rebirth, come into play with each seemingly unrelated story arc.

The first character we meet is Ryan, a young, college age man who has just learned that his uncle is in fact his father. Now, under his guidance, Ryan decides to fake his suicide and start a fresh, new life. However, as Ryan begins pursuing other identities, paranoia, fear, and a host of other demons come into play. Neither the reader, nor Ryan, are sure whether or not there is someone chasing him. Tracing forwards, then backwards, and then back to the present, we learn more about Ryan and each of the other characters.

Next comes Lucy, a recent high school graduate who lost both her parents in a car accident almost two years ago, and is now running off with her lover/history teacher George Orson. What begins as a sweet natured, risky, and free spirited move quickly turns sour when Lucy begins feeling a rift between her and her much older lover. Is he who he says he is? Where is the man who charmed her, where has he gone? And can Lucy get out of his grasp? Lucy's story felt closest to home for me, knowing people who have engaged in relationships with teachers or older men, the risk involved only sinks in when it's perhaps too late, as Lucy finds out along the way.

Finally, there is Miles, a man in hot pursuit of his twin brother, Hayden, his closest companion and strongest enemy. Hayden has schizoprenia, and is a compulsive liar who cannot stay put in the same place with an invented identity for too long. Having vanished years ago, Hayden is either in Alaska, or somewhere else, or possibly dead. Their relationship definitely was the most unpredictable of the characters, it goes back decades, giving both brothers cause for their actions, all the while building up the reasons why Hayden might have left, and why Miles wants to find him again.

Await Your Reply has a lot of twists and turns, and the way the characters eventually intersect works well for the story itself. Admittedly, the novel loses a little bit of momentum in different parts, and the different plotlines may confuse the reader once they tie together. But in the end, Reply is a damn good read, one that raises plenty of questions and brings up a number of ideas, both involving identity and relationships between human beings. It's a suspenseful thriller outrightly, but at the core of the novel, a big beating heart exists, one that supplies the novel with enough emotions and pulse that it doesn't fall into garden variety or cliched terratory.

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