Friday, March 19, 2010

Mistaken Identity

Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply starts out by alternating among three unrelated stories about alienated characters. One is Lucy, an orphaned high school senior in Ohio who becomes infatuated with her charismatic AP History teacher George Orson. Another concerns Ryan, a confused college dropout from Iowa who belatedly learns the identity of his biological father. The third character is Miles, a lonely thirty-something, working at a magic store in Cleveland, who is searching for his missing twin brother Hayden, a schizophrenic who periodically sends Miles cryptic messages about his whereabouts.

The separate stories move both forward and backward in time, which is less confusing than it sounds. The book opens with a very dramatic scene involving Ryan, and for most of the rest of the book we follow Ryan's life prior to this event, all the while knowing that Chaon has to somehow get us back to this harrowing scene. In all three stories characters are struggling with their own identities but also with the identities of those they love. And as the stories progressed I increasingly felt that these ever-shifting identities must somehow connect to each other.

I don't see how I can tell you anymore without spoiling it. The title refers to a line in a spam e-mail we've probably all gotten from an African businessman asking you to take temporary possession of twenty million dollars. Chaon explores this internet world where identities are interchangeable and elusive. This book is dark and scary psychological thriller, but also a literary examination of the human desire to find one's true self.

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