Stay Awake by Dan Chaon is a collection of short stories that reminds me very much of his previous novel, Await Your Reply. Both books talk a lot about identity and memory, both books have pivotal scenes that happen in abandoned Nebraska prairie towns, and both books feature twenty-something men who haven’t really grown up. The only Chaon besides this book I’ve read is Await Your Reply is this one, so I can’t compare this to his other short stories.
I was bowled away by these stories, and especially by “Stay Awake,” told by the father of a young baby born with a parasitic head. It reminded me very much of Lorrie Moore’s story, “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” which was told by a mother of a baby dying of cancer. I felt for lots o Chaon’s characters, but the father in this story sticks out.
Other stories are very good at capturing marriages, relationships dissolving, and reassessing one’s life at mid-life. Chaon is very good at capturing the inner lives of his characters, from the young widower and father in “To the Psychic Underworld:” to the teenager whose infant son died in, “Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow.”
I wasn’t in love with the closing story, told by ghostly daughters of a father who tried to kill them, but that’s the only and biggest misstep I found in this collection. Why did these stories resonate? I live in the Midwest, and most of the stories in the collection take place around here. Chaon gets sorrow. His characters felt like real, suffering people. Finally, Chaon also gets parenting right.
I have a few other Chaon books sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to delve into them as well.
STAY AWAKE by Dan Chaon
BallantinePublication date: February 7, 2012
Source: Publisher via NetGalley