Like his first novel, You Remind Me of Me, Dan Chaon’s latest is a profound and haunting exploration of the shifting, often tenuous, nature of identity. The fact that Chaon has chosen to revisit this theme in the context of a tense, chilling story of modern cybercrime enriches his novel and gives it a disturbingly timely feel.
Much of Await Your Reply consists of three superficially unrelated plot threads: Ryan Schuyler is a college dropout who makes his way to a cabin in northern Michigan where he lives with Jay Kozelek, a man he’s been told is his uncle. In truth, Jay is Ryan’s father, a man who makes his living in the business of identity theft. Orphaned in a car accident, 18-year-old Lucy Lattimore flees her stifling Ohio town with her mysterious high school history teacher on a journey that will take them from an abandoned motel in the middle of Nebraska to the Ivory Coast. And Miles Cheshire drives from Cleveland to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, believing he’ll find his missing twin brother Hayden there and end a 10-year quest. Ryan’s observation that he “had been traveling away from himself for a long time now” aptly describes all three of these characters and their plights.
Patiently following these parallel lines to the vanishing point, Chaon takes his time weaving together the novel’s plot strands. Methodical pacing is made even more tantalizing by the story’s fractured chronology. But these brave narrative choices pay off in a series of revelations that, while hinted at, are brought home with both subtlety and a stunning force that illuminates and deepens the meaning of all that has preceded them. What makes the novel even more appealing is Chaon’s coolly observant, measured prose. Like a skilled musician, he’s chosen the perfect pitch for a story in which so many characters are not who they appear to be.
Far more than an absorbing mystery, in this complex and psychologically astute story Dan Chaon puts on a virtuosic display of his literary talent. It’s a thrilling example of the best of contemporary literary fiction.
Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.