"The Washington Post -""San Francisco Chronicle"
Before the critically acclaimed novels "Await Your Reply "and" You Remind Me of Me, "Dan Chaon made a name for himself as a renowned writer of dazzling short stories. Read more...
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"The Washington Post -""San Francisco Chronicle"
Before the critically acclaimed novels "Await Your Reply "and" You Remind Me of Me, "Dan Chaon made a name for himself as a renowned writer of dazzling short stories. Now, in "Stay Awake, " Chaon returns to that form for the first time since his masterly "Among the Missing, " a finalist for the National Book Award.
In these haunting, suspenseful stories, lost, fragile, searching characters wander between ordinary life and a psychological shadowland. They have experienced intense love or loss, grief or loneliness, displacement or disconnection--and find themselves in unexpected, dire, and sometimes unfathomable situations.
A father's life is upended by his son's night terrors--and disturbing memories of the first wife and child he abandoned; a foster child receives a call from the past and begins to remember his birth mother, whose actions were unthinkable; a divorced woman experiences her own dark version of "empty-nest syndrome"; a young widower is unnerved by the sudden, inexplicable appearances of messages and notes--on dollar bills, inside a magazine, stapled to the side of a tree; and a college dropout begins to suspect that there's something off, something sinister, in his late parents' house.
Dan Chaon's stories feature scattered families, unfulfilled dreamers, anxious souls. They exist in a twilight realm--in a place by the window late at night when the streets are empty and the world appears to be quiet. But you are up, unable to sleep. So you stay awake.
Praise for "Stay Awake"
"Eerily beautiful . . . Chaon] is the modern day John Cheever."--"Boston Sunday Globe "
"Powerful and disturbing . . . The shocks in this collection are many."--"The Washington Post"
"Chaon is able to create fully realized characters in mere pages. . . . This collection is further proof that Chaon is one of the best fiction writers working right now."--"Omaha World-Herald"
"There are not many fiction writers who can do what Dan Chaon can do. . . . He is] a literary force."--"The Philadelphia Inquirer"
"Intense and suspenseful . . . a highly recommended work, not to be missed."--"Library Journa"l (starred review)
"Mesmerizing . . . gripping, masterful fiction."--"The Plain Dealer"
"Superbly disquieting."--"The New York Times Book Review"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-11-28
- Reviewer: Staff
With this arresting collection, Chaon again demonstrates his mastery of the short story. In the hypnotic ”The Bees,” a young boy screams in his sleep for no reason; he’s suffered no known distress. He doesn’t even seem to be having nightmares. The boy’s father, greatly disturbed, soon finds his own dark past threatening to overwhelm his present. In the title story, Zach and Amber’s baby girl is born with an incompletely formed conjoined twin. When Zach narrowly survives death before a highly risky operation to separate the twins, this already fragile family is strained to the breaking point. An electrician named Critter, living with his young daughter in Toledo, Ohio, after the death of his wife, keeps found notes despite their troubling nature, in “To Psychic Underworld:.” Chaon’s protagonists are plagued by common traumas and struggle to rectify their decisions with the external forces of fate. More often than not, characters are stuck in an eddy that seems inescapable, yet which is also a moment’s isolation from the surrounding flow. Chaon (Await Your Reply) brings readers fantastically close, slowly drawing them into the anxiety or loneliness or remorse of his characters, and building great anticipation for the twists to come. Agent: Noah Lukeman, Lukeman Literary Management. (Feb. 7)
Spotlight: Short stories
It’s an embarrassment of riches to have new collections by short story masters Nathan Englander and Dan Chaon released on the same day (Feb. 7). After publishing novels in 2007 and 2009, respectively, they’ve returned to a form that showcases their talents at fashioning sturdily constructed, memorable tales.
Englander caused a stir in 1999 with his first collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, which offered unorthodox glimpses into the world of Orthodox Judaism. He stays close to his roots here, echoing the art of Jewish short fiction masters from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Philip Roth in tales that are both contemporary and timeless.
Most of the Jewish characters that populate the stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank are survivors (literally so, for the several who endured the Holocaust). Nowhere is that more dramatically demonstrated than in the novelistic “Sister Hills,” set in the northern portion of the territory captured by Israel in 1967. The story spans decades, and focuses on Rena and Yehudit, settlers who occupy two desolate settlements on “empty mountains that God had long ago given Israel but that Israel had long ago forgotten.” With its mythic overtones, it’s a stunning narrative achievement.
Englander is intrigued by the difficulty of moral choices, as displayed in stories like “Camp Sundown,” when a group of Holocaust survivors at an elderhostel camp decide to take revenge on a man they believe was a Nazi guard at a concentration camp. And the title story, evoking a classic Raymond Carver tale, follows two couples—one, assimilated South Floridians; the other, friends who have abandoned America for an ultra-Orthodox life in Israel—as they debate which of them would shelter the other in a new Holocaust.
As serious as some of Englander’s themes may be, he displays an equally potent gift for comedy, most notably in “How We Avenged the Blums,” recounting the fumbling efforts of a group of Long Island Jewish boys and their dubious Russian martial arts teacher to retaliate against an iconic bully, “the Anti-Semite.”
Several of the stories in Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake have the same enigmatic aura as his 2009 novel, Await Your Reply, an intricate exploration of identity in the cyber-age. From the opener, “The Bees,” in which a recovering alcoholic is haunted by his decision to abandon his wife and young son, a chill descends on Chaon’s world.
The mostly male protagonists are stunted, both economically and emotionally. The employed ones work as supermarket clerks or UPS drivers, and the most accomplished, a former college professor in the story “Long Delayed, Always Expected,” has been brain damaged in an automobile accident.
Death is another thread that unites Chaon’s stories. Two moving examples are the title story, in which a child is born with a “parasitic” twin head with an underdeveloped body attached to hers, and “Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow,” where a teenager and his “former future wife” struggle after their newborn’s death.
Though their subject matter could not differ more dramatically, in their moral seriousness and literary craftsmanship Nathan Englander and Dan Chaon deliver some of the best of what contemporary short fiction has to offer.