Just finished reading AWAIT YOUR REPLY (2009) by Dan Chaon this morning and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It's pitched as a literary thriller but it ultimately comes down far heavier on the literary side of things than the thriller. It's more a character study and meditation on the question of identity than a page turning pulp thriller but nonetheless, Chaon did keep me reading by weaving an intricate puzzle of a narrative.
The book focuses on three separate story lines that, at first glance, appear to have nothing in common. There's twin brothers Hayden and Miles. Miles, a brilliant but deeply disturbed young man, has been missing for years and Hayden sets out to piece together the clues left behind and find his long lost twin. Then there's Lucy and George, George is a charismatic high school teacher who seduces one of his students, Lucy, into running away with him. They eventually come to rest in a bizarre abandoned motel with a lighthouse motif in the middle of Nebraska. Imagine The Bates Motel with a lighthouse and a dried up lake. And finally, there's Ryan and Jay. Ryan is a young man who fakes his own death and disappears to take up with his birth father, Jay, a recluse who lives in a cabin in the remote Michigan wilderness. There the two set up a multitude of Internet scams, schemes and frauds involving various false identities and large sums of money.
How all of these threads ultimately tie together (and they do), is what propels the story. Chaon leavens his tale with some extremely well drawn scenes and characters. He's great at getting into their heads and revealing what makes them tick but he's careful not to give us too much information too soon.
While the story lines play out in what appears to be three simultaneous, parallel series of events, that's not what's really going on here. There's a specific order to things that becomes clear near the end but even then, Chaon doesn't completely fill in all of the blanks and details, leaving only the vaguest of hints for the reader to use to fill in the missing pieces.
The material is here for a terrific pulp thriller but that's not what Chaon's all about. It's a more serious, contemplative work. I was expecting something else and was, frankly, slightly disappointed by the ending. But Chaon has real talent. He's a wonderful writer and he really brings his characters to life as they search for meaning, truth and identity.
AWAIT YOUR REPLY is definitely worth reading and would make a great book club selection, especially since the trade paperback edition contains an interview with Chaon, a deleted chapter and book club questions for discussion.