December 10, 2009

Book Review: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 2:26 pm by The Word Jar

Who are you? Is your identity static, defined only by your past experiences? Or is it dynamic, able to be created, altered, or eliminated as you move along in life? Await Your Reply, the new novel by National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon, raises questions about and suggests implications of modern identity while weaving together the story of three characters trying to figure out their own identities.

Await Your Reply follows three ordinary characters in less than ordinary circumstances. Ryan, a college sophomore, finds out he is adopted and disappears from his crumbling life to enter the world of identity theft. Lucy decides to leave her sleepy hometown, swept away by her charming high school teacher who promises her adventure and fortune, only to end up in a motel in Nebraska. Miles has given up living his own life, and possibly his hold on his sanity, in a desperate search to find his long-lost, possibly schizophrenic, twin brother.

Chaon uses the mundane details of the characters’ lives—Ryan sitting in a rental car office; Lucy watching movies in the motel; Miles at his job in a novelty shop—to cultivate the core essence of the novel. These meaningless details show that “most people  . . . [have] identities that [are] so shallow that you could easily manage a hundred of them at once.” A person’s identity is so often defined by one’s job, hobby, or favorite movie—superficial attributes that can easily be culled from an Internet search—that anyone with a little determination could actually maintain several separate and disparate identities at the same time. It’s the ramifications of these multiple identities that propel the story to its satisfying conclusion.

As is often the case in real life, the small details in Await Your Reply can easily be overlooked by the reader as insignificant. It is not until the end that the reader is able to put everything together and realize what’s been happening the whole time. Await Your Reply is a novel that begs to be reread as soon as the reader finishes the final page.

(Review copy source: Ballantine Books via LibraryThing)

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