Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is apparently the latest novel on a theme that I seem to be reading for some reason. It's almost like the death and grief theme all over again except the book I'm reading now doesn't appear to be a part of the theme. Her Fearful Symmetry turned out to be an odd story with a rather complicated family secret revealed in its resolution; one of the themes in Symmetry was identity. The Chaon book follows on the theme of complicated resolution. You cannot fully appreciate the complicated unless you read the book all the way through. Now about half way through the book my wheels started turning about how the main characters were connected as teased in the blurb on the inside of the book jacket. In the end my theory was close to what was revealed at the end of the novel.
Three strands of narrative run throughout the book and mysteries are at the center of all three. It turns the chronology of these narratives is not parallel. My assumption throughout the book that these storylines are simultaneously occurring was not correct and the correct chronology of these stories can be a little complicated to get straight (this is the part that reminded me of Symmetry).
Lucy, a recent high school graduate and a recent orphan, is restless and ready to cut loose from her Ohio hometown--to go anywhere, live anywhere, and be anything as long as it's not in Pompey, Ohio. One night she steals away with her lover who is also her high school history teacher, George Orson. Eventually the lovebirds land in his Nebraska hometown at the motel property he says he's inherited from his mother. But is Orson who he says he is or appears to be? Shortly after their arrival, Orson withdraws, begins acting strangely, and remains elusive about just what he plans for their future. In recollections of how these two met, it appears Orson targets and manipulates Lucy's insecurities; her isolation at school and at home makes her a naive and easy target. However, Lucy cares about having money and being able to live well and has no problem using Orson as her means to a better life.
Miles has finally settled down again in Cleveland, Ohio, after years spent on the road trailing just one step behind his twin brother, Hayden. Hayden is a paranoid, delusional schizophrenic who has been institutionalized off and on throughout his childhood before going on the run in the U.S. and Canada, working different jobs in different cities under different names. The last time Miles nearly caught up with Hayden was in South Dakota where Hayden was using Miles' own name. When Miles finally returned home from this trip there was a cruel taunt in the form of a package and an email waiting for him from his brother. Miles decides he is done chasing Hayden and that it is time to move with his life and try to build something more out of his life. But two years later Miles receives another mysterious, delusional, and troubling letter from his brother and again Miles is sucked back into the chase. This time he tracks Hayden to a remote Canadian village in the Arctic Circle.
Ryan's plight opens the book--he's on his way to the hospital with his severed hand on ice beside him on the car seat. His story is told by moving backwards chronologically to slowly reveal how he comes to be in his current predicament. One day Ryan is contacted by his uncle Jay, who coldly reveals that he is Ryan's biological father. The revelation sends Ryan's life into a tailspin and the next day he sets out for Michigan, leaving behind his life and identity, vanishing without a trace and presumed dead, to meet up with Jay. But one can tell Jay has ulterior motives from the start--from the way he contacted Ryan out of the blue, to the advice to Ryan to keep his parental revelation from his adoptive parents, to the way Jay enlists him in his murky and dangerous scheme involving aliases, social security numbers, travel, and shifting money around. Jay doesn't reveal to Ryan that he is on the very bad side of some very ruthless, very dangerous people until it is too late.
This books takes the reader into a twisted warren of identity fraud made even more complicated by the chronology of a timeline that is not revealed until literally the last page. All is finally revealed, explained and/or implied and what a tangled web it is. I did not particularly feel sympathetic for any of these characters. Okay, maybe I felt a little sorry for Miles, but he was just a tad too passive and unmotivated in his life. In the end more than one of these characters is victim to the manipulations of the same man. This is a portrait of how a mentally ill, but brilliant man preys on those who share similar personality and background traits that makes them vulnerable. He knows the types that are easy prey to his manipulations.
The story was well written and executed, but in the end I felt a little disappointed and let down and I'm not sure why. I suppose I feel like what exactly is the point to this story. There isn't really a traditional resolution to the story and perhaps that's why I feel unsatisfied. We are never really told what exactly Hayden's motivations are since the storylines are more from the perspectives of Miles, Ryan and Lucy.
I may or may not recommend this book.
--reviewed by Ms. Angie