Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Phoenix Books
Narrated by Kirby Hayborne
Length: 10 hours 31 minutes


In this haunting menagerie of a novel, three disparate people find themselves thrown into a complex identity theft of grand proportions. While some of them realize a little too late, some don’t even have the chance to figure out where they’re going or who is orchestrating the madness that surrounds them. Miles Chesire has been looking for his twin brother, Hayden, for years. Hayden, a very sophisticated yet mentally ill man, has kept Miles consistently one step behind him for the last ten years. The only reason Mies even knows that Hayden is alive is due to the letters that await him at every dead end in his quest to find his missing brother. Meanwhile, Lucy Lattimore, a plain young girl with no prospects, has just graduated from high school, and rather than face a dead end life has decided to run off with her bright and attractive former history teacher. The two have a plan that will involve the theft of millions of dollars while granting them new identities. In the third narrative arc, Ryan Schuyler, a young college student, has just learned some shocking news about his family that results in him walking off campus into a sordid life, never to look back. Presumed dead in his rush to abandon his old life, he will find that his new life holds more danger than he could have ever imagined. In this tense and winding tale, Dan Chaon will twist each of these stories together into a tight and punishing knot, leaving the reader to uncover the single thread that ties all of them together—a stunning secret that reveals itself once the ultimate horror has already been inflicted upon each of them. A masterful work of literary suspense, Await Your Reply is a terrifying look into the world of charismatic mania and the theft of the most basic thing in the world: our separate and mingled identities.

After hearing so many great things about Chaon and his stellar writing skills, I picked up this book for review knowing that it was a favorite of Marie over at Boston Bibliophile. I do confess that I got more than I ever expected from this dark and sinister tale, and was glad that I chose the audio version, narrated by Kirby Heyborne. Heyborne delivers this tale with a great amount of verve and savvy, creating a sinister vibe that is belied by his calm narration. I think his unaffected vocal inflections actually made this book more menacing, and his ability to never lose control of his vocal mastery left me more and more anxious about what was to come. Never did Heyborne drop the ball or flub his delivery, which only added a layer of subtle nuance to the tale and keep me guessing until the end.

This is ostensibly the story of three very different individuals. One arc about a man with a missing twin brother who may or may not be dangerous, a young girl who just wants to succeed in a life headed toward failure, and a young man who is disenchanted to find out that there is a secret about himself that nobody has ever told him. On the surface, as the narrative zings along from one thread to another, these people couldn’t be more different. They are all at different points in their life, all range in age and sex, and all are trying to find bits of themselves floating in the flotsam of everyday life. As the complex revolutions of the plot move forward, I began picking up small bits of symmetry between these three—odd little bits that tied these stories together, however tenuously. Great personal catastrophe looms ahead for all of them, but somehow they never see it coming, and I, as a reader, never saw it coming either, which only heightened the payoff for me.

The major theme of this story is the mutability of identity and the clever ways in which it can be manipulated and overtaken. Some of these characters are knowledgeable in the ways and means of their own and others’ identities, and others are totally na├»ve, barely fitting even in their own skins. To some, identity is something that can be put on and shucked off just as if they were changing clothes, while others are so ingrained in their own identity that it causes them immense problems and internal strife. Some characters are in the gray area of misapprehension about who they are or who they are to become, and some base their identities solely on the peculiarity of others. It was impossible for me to cease inspecting each and every character to see if they were a plotter or being plotted against, and it wasn’t until the final chapter ended that I saw Chaon’s meticulously built house of cards. But instead of everything crashing down around me, this story held on and glued itself into my consciousness completely.

There is fear and insecurity compounded by resolve and ceaseless engineering in this tale, for only one will come out unscathed while the rest are set on paths toward a slow destruction. This wasn’t a tale that I could idly listen to without speculating, but magnificently, it held its own, and I was totally surprised by the eventual outcome that marked the novel’s conclusion. What at first was grey and indistinct grew into a fully realized and complex set of disturbing facts and harsh realizations that had me awed with Chaon’s cleverness and ingenuity. It was more than a diverting read though—it was a read underscored with passion and cruelty, danger and instability. I wasn’t expecting as much as I got with this novel, and was not only pleasantly surprised but also creepily unsettled. The narration only highlighted this unsettling feeling for me.

If you haven’t tried any of Chaon’s work, I would recommend starting here. It’s not a super long novel, but it’s one that will have you reaching back into the recesses of the story to see where the pieces have fallen and asking yourself if there is any way that you might have seen the ending coming. The complex interweaving of these seemingly random people will have you shaking your head in awe over what Chaon manages to do with his pagespace. A highly inventive and creative read that will leave you deliciously unsettled and keep you flipping pages. Highly recommended.

23 comments:

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one is new to me. I really enjoyed your review. I'll have to keep this one in mind.

bermudaonion said...

Hm, I have this in print but the fact that Kirby Heyborne narrates the audio version makes it very tempting.

Ti said...

He's a terrific writer. I read this one and enjoyed it very much. His short story collection was very good as well.

Great job today, Heather!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

This sounds really good. I haven't read any of Chaon's books so I'll put this on the list. Great review!

Amy said...

I've been wanting to read him forever and your review is just another reminder that I want to!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I read Stay Awake on audio and it just did not work. Short stories can be difficult on audio. Still I have heard great things about this book so maybe I'll give it a try at some point.

Jenny said...

This sounds intense!! I have had this on my TBR almost since it came out, lol... Sounds like I need to move it higher up the pile1

jennysbooks said...

I feel like I only medium have heard of Dan Chaon? But this sounds really interesting so clearly I need to rectify that!

Trisha said...

I like the idea of all these dark undertones. Added to the wish list.

Suko said...

Excellent, incisive review! You make this audio book about identity sound incredibly complex and compelling, dark, and unsettling--I may need to read or listen to Await Your Reply

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have had this on my wish list forever - not sure why I haven't read it yet!

Brooke said...

I'm so glad you liked this one, Heather! It's been sitting on my shelves for so long and now I can't wait to pick it up. The darkness and the identity themes really appeal to me.

Harvee Lau said...

I haven't read Chaon; thanks for the recommendation and review.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have read this author's previous book and liked it a lot. I'm glad you recommended the audio for this one, so I definitely plan to get it from the library. You make it sound like one I will love.

Jenners said...

I read this last year and felt the same way. It comes together in such a satisfying and surprising way that you wonder why you never saw it coming.

Athira said...

This sounds very different and fabulous! I'm very intrigued by your thoughts about this book and I think I will have to make time to read it! Great review!

Alison Skap said...

This has been on my TBR list for too long...putting the audio in my library now! Great review, thank you!!

Elizabeth said...

I tried to read something by this author a while back - maybe a short story collection? - and it just didn't jive with me, but this sounds quite interesting. I'll have to give him another shot.

Lisa said...

I love this: "haunting menagerie of a novel!" You are really "reading" some great books on audio these days. I have found audio to be hit and miss - it certainly makes a big difference.

Vasilly said...

I love it when a book has you guessing while you're listening/reading it! The fact that you didn't see many of the elements coming tells me that this is a good read. I'm going to add the audio version of this book to my reading list. What a great review.

Aarti said...

I've not read Chaon before, so I'm glad you say this is a good one to start with. I've heard lots about him and this book, but of course, your review makes it sound even MORE amazing than others do. Great work!

Also, I miss you!

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

Wow! you've made this one sound amazing! And its one of those rare books that I almost want to get the audio and print version ~ audio to capture the subtle nuances and print for the ease in looking back through at the threads. Excellent review!

Marie said...

I'm so glad you liked it so much! :-) <3 Yay!

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