Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon

When I left Random House last year to become sales manager at UT, I failed to give enough thought to one important thing: I wouldn’t be selling Dan Chaon books any longer. [She was mostly focused on getting away from me as fast as possible.  Sigh.] I wouldn’t have an excuse to talk about his story collections Fitting Ends and Among the Missing, or his novels You Remind Me of Me and my favorite book of 2010, Await Your Reply. I mean, I think what I put you poor booksellers through for the past few years, you had to sit there and listen to me again and again talk about Chaon. Frankly I am surprised that no one grabbed me by the shoulders (who am I kidding? the hair) and shook the hell out of me until I shut up. [It's not too late....]

Guess what? It’s not too late. [See? Even she admits it!] Chaon is back with an outstanding collection called Stay Awake (Feb 2012). Fasten your seat belts; I have decided to unofficially sell the hell out of this new book as well. Stay Awake is a reminder of why I was drawn to Chaon in the first place: he is a master of the short story.  You think you don’t like short stories, by the way? This collection can change your mind in the same way Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America brought so many fans to read stores for the first time.

Remember how anxiety-ridden you were with Await Your Reply? Well get that Xanax refill because Stay Awake is haunting. One of my favorite stories is "Bees," in which a father’s life begins to spiral out of control with the onset of his child’s night terrors, and now his own inability to continue to repress the memories of his secret first wife and child that he abandoned so long ago. This story is riveting.

My favorite selection is the title story, "Stay Awake." A young couple gives birth to a baby who has a parasitic twin.  I have long been fascinated by this incredibly rare medical condition (I believe there have been less than a dozen cases) and I have not been able to get the images of this story out of my head. At once heartbreaking and creepy, you won’t be able to shake this story for days. [Twins are creepy!...says the twin.]

If you are a fan of Joyce Carol Oates this book is for you. 

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