In which three intertwining stories explore how we develop an identity and how easily it can be lost or replaced
Title: Await Your Reply
Author: Dan Chaon
What it’s about: Await Your Reply is a book that you discover page by page. Each sentence, each word, reveals something new until suddenly, like a freight train, it hits you and you get it. Interestingly, an interview in the back of the book suggests that even the author had this experience. Chaon says that he began the book with a series of vignettes–a lighthouse motel on the edge of a dry lake in Nebraska, an old atlas marked up with imaginary landmarks, a magician suffering a heart attack onstage–and expanded them into a story, getting to that same aha moment when he suddenly felt the story coalesce.
That moment of realization is one of the major draws of the book, so let it be known that everything I’m about to tell you about the plot happens in the first couple chapters. And that’s saying a lot. Await Your Reply follows three different characters. The first is Ryan, who is in a speeding car on the way to the hospital with his father. Ryan’s severed left hand is resting in a bucket of ice beside him and he’s wondering if he’ll survive the night. He’d been trying to reinvent himself, he’d given up his old life for something new and daring, but it’s all breaking up now, it’s clearly taken a wrong turn.
Lucy is trying to be someone new as well. She’s run off with her high school history teacher, George Orson, and they’re holed up in an abandoned motel owned by his family in Nebraska. George has promised they’ll be rich and his Maserati and Ivy-league past made her believe him. She imagines a glamorous new life for herself in Rome or Paris, but instead she’s spending her days watching old movies while George holes up in the study, ostensibly planning their future together. She is slowly realizing that George Orson’s plans aren’t entirely legal and that their idyllic times as just “Lucy and George” are about to come to an end.
Miles, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have much of a future. His life has been dominated, overwhelmed, by his search for his missing twin brother, Hayden. Miles receives a letter or a phone call every now and then and he tries to compile evidence for or against Hayden, but it’s increasingly clear that his twin has a very tenuous grip on reality. Hayden lives in the world they invented as children. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic, believing he’s being hunted by the government, committed to living the ruin lifestyle, outside the law and off the grid. Miles tries to start a life of his own, a normal life with a job and friends. But he is constantly drawn back to his search for Hayden, his desire to understand his twin’s delusions and perhaps his own feelings that without Hayden he’s hardly a real person. Now he’s driving towards the Arctic Ocean, half-hopeful that he’ll finally find Hayden, half-resigned to another dead end.
Await Your Reply suggests that identity is fluid, that we make ourselves anew all the time. The characters in this novel happen to do it in spectacular fashion–they leave behind everything they know, abandoning their homes or families or even their names–but at its core the book suggests that we’re all involved in a search for a “truer” identity. We’re never finished remaking ourselves. We all hold onto dreams and some of us would do anything to make those dreams a reality.
Would I recommend? Yes! Await Your Reply is gripping and extremely entertaining and the payoff will not disappoint. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year and I’m adding it to my list of favorites!