Await Your Reply
Dan Chaon

Random House
Hardcover/336 pages
ISBN: 0-345476026
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". . . The amazing and often confusing sequence of coincidental events prove that there is no such thing as coincidence."

Await Your Reply: A fascinating journey behind the mask of identity.

Ryan is in danger. Jay drives him–and his severed hand packed in ice in a beer cooler–to the emergency room.

Lucy has left Ohio with her high school English teacher, George Orson, and ends up in an abandoned motel in Nebraska next to a dried up lake where the main feature is a lighthouse.

Miles has never given up searching for his twin brother Hayden. Hayden has led him a merry chase all around the country and, finally, away from the half-life Miles began in Cleveland, Ohio, up to Canada. The doctors called Hayden a paranoid-schizophrenic, but Hayden sees himself as a canny observer of truth, the victim of a hypnotist who opened the floodgates to all his past lives.

As disparate as these peoples’ lives seem to be, each is connected by a single thread, Hayden Cheshire. Each is infected with a desire to become someone or something else.

Dan Chaon begins Await Your Reply with a life and death situation and ends with a man ready to shed the layers of the lives he has led. Along with the people he has known, he reinvents himself and purges his memory of all attachments in hopes of finding some sense of self and peace. What Chaon asks throughout this sprawling novel is whether identity is mutable. Are we the sum total of the facts or the accumulation of experience? Can we keep reinventing ourselves until we find the persona that fits?

What begins with a frantic race ends with a slow drive toward an empty horizon, rambling through a series of vignettes like a shell game centered on Hayden and Miles Cheshire. It is, as Shakespeare wrote, “A tale, told by a mad man, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” but the nothing is the nothing each of the characters descends into in search of something more… a connection.

Each of the characters believes or wants to believe that someone loves them completely. That basic need – to be loved – is central to all the characters. The search for love is the search for identity, not in the mundane numbers and facts of a person’s life, or in the names and personae adopted, but in being seen and known by one other person. It is in this that Chaon succeeds brilliantly while dazzling the reader with profoundly insightful writing. The amazing and often confusing sequence of coincidental events prove that there is no such thing as coincidence.

Await Your Reply lolls from character to character in a literary snipe hunt that is often frustrating, but finally settles into a pace that ends with a quiet “Eureka!” that is eminently satisfying.


Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell