I’ve only met one real con-man in my life. I worked for a small IT firm at the time and he was hired as the regional director. He came off so smooth, so polished. He seemed like he knew everything and was going to fix all our problems. But it didn’t take long for us to realize that none of his stories made sense if you scratched the surface a bit. Quickly the lies became a black hole, swallowing up everything about him. When they had enough evidence, they fired him for embezzlement. Those of us left in the office picked up the pieces, feeling foolish and angry and frustrated and sad. In the end, I could let it go because I wasn’t really attached to him in any way. But his 5 year old son couldn’t escape him that easily. It would take quite a tractor beam to keep that little boy from getting sucked into the black hole.
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is a story about the people getting sucked in. These people start out wanting something simple: a new life, a close relationship, an understanding of self. They fall fast and hard into a harsh reality of lies and worse. It’s a story about wanting to be connected and at the same time, it’s a story all about separation.
It begins with what seem to be three different story lines: the high school grad that runs off with her former teacher, the man searching for his twin brother, missing for more than a decade, and the college student who finds out he was adopted and goes to live with his uncle/biological father. We’re riveted as our protagonists realize just how much the people they are with or seeking are not who they seem to be. It’s a tragedy in that you really get to like these characters and slowly their worlds just crumble around them. I really enjoyed that Chaon told the story from the perspectives of the ones who start out as innocent and naive and end up as somewhat willing participants in a mess of crime and intrigue. They don’t know how get out, nor even if they want to...
The beauty of this book is that you keep guessing all the way through. It’s a crime drama, a thriller, and a mystery. You think you know what’s happening and then the author drops a line that throws you into a whole other direction.
Other reviews I’ve read say this is a story about identity theft. I’m not so sure I would say that, although that is part of it. It’s about the question of closeness and separation. How much does one person have to separate themselves from the things that make them who they are in order to gain what they desire? Each of these characters struggles with this question. They think they want someone/something so badly and they lose most everything else in the process, their entire identities. The character most separated from reality, identity, and self, is the one who most desires personal closeness and connection. The irony for this character is that his complete separation from those things makes being close to anyone impossible.
For those of you who want a happy ending, you won’t exactly find one here, but Chaon does leave us with a shred of hope for each of our characters at the end.
CF (Crack Factor)---8. This book goes fast. You get sucked into the black hole, too
DF (Distraction Factor) – 8. This is a haunting tale. It will bother you for a while.
PF (People Factor) – 9. The characters are really rich. I was invested in their lives. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what was going to happen to them.
STF (Story Telling Factor) – 9. It’s a twisty plot but it has to be. That is part of the joy of this book--you keep guessing.
WS (Writing Skills Factor) – 9. Chaon knows his craft. The words do not disappoint.
Total rating – 8.6