Friday, March 23, 2012
Book Review: "Stay Awake" by Dan Chaon
I was first introduced to Dan Chaon when I started getting interested in short stories in the late 1990s. I remember being blown away by several of his stories, and over the years I eagerly devoured both of his novels, You Remind Me of Me and Await Your Reply, which was one of my favorite books I read in 2009. Stay Awake is Chaon's return to short stories, and while I didn't feel that any of the stories in this collection packed the power of some of his older stories, they are still tremendously well-written and immensely readable.
All of the characters in these stories are dealing with some sort of trauma, be it physical, psychological, even paranormal. Some of my favorite stories included "To Psychic Underworld:," in which a young widower starts finding cryptic notes on dollar bills, restaurant napkins, tacked to trees, etc.; "Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow," which follows a high school couple whose lives are thrown into turmoil when their baby dies; "Long Delayed, Always Expected," in which a woman has an interesting way of dealing with empty nest syndrome; and "I Wake Up," which follows a young man who receives an out-of-the-blue phone call from his oldest sister, years after their family has been split into separate foster homes following their mother's horrible crime. Some of the stories work better than others; I tended to enjoy those that dealt with more regular situations than those which focused on the odd or paranormal.
Dan Chaon is a terrific writer, and his storytelling ability definitely shines in many of the stories in this collection. I guess it's my own fault for expecting a story or two to really wallop me, based on his previous collections, but this is an enjoyable and compelling collection worthy of a read.