Monday, August 24, 2009

Dan Chaon's New Novel Captures the Horror in Ourselves

So I go to this bookseller dinner in Chicago to meet Dan Chaon. Jason's read his new novel, Await Your Reply, and loves it, but can't attend. I remember how much several of my coworkers enjoyed You Remind me of Me, his last book. Also, there's a gift show going on at the merchandise mart and it makes this a good day to attend both.

I'm hoping to avoid too much face time with the author because I haven't read the book yet. So of course I immediately run into him with Dave of Next Chapter, waiting outside and chatting. And when the dinner begins, everyone wants to talk about the book, and in particular, wants to talk about the surprising twist of the ending.

I'm covering my ears and singing, taking frequent bathroom breaks, doing anything I can to avoid spoilers. Folks are comparing Chaon's writing to all sorts of luminaries, but several got hung up on a comparison to Peter Straub. Horror? This isn't horror, I heard more than one person say. On the other hand, one of those same people talked about veiled references to Thomas Tryon's The Other, and isn't that considered literary horror? I'm pretty sure...

So sometimes after these dinners, if I haven't read the book already, I never get around to it. But how could I resist in this case (Aha! Success on the part of the publisher. Fancy dinner and peer pressure forces me to read outside my comfort zone)?

It's three different stories actually. One is about a young man who has reuinited with his long-lost father, holed up in a Michigan cabin. Another's about a young girl who has run off with her high school teacher. The third is about a man searching for his elusive and eccentric identical twin, taking him all the way to a native Arctic settlement. All the stories are about the elusiveness of identity. So is it a novel or woven together stories? Oh, it packs an impact like a novel, all right, though Chaon did say that he did not originally know how the work would come together when he stared.

And is it horror? It's certainly creepy like horror. And though I haven't read much Straub or Stephen King, Chaon seems to know the rhythms of the genre well; to me at least, it read like King. It almost makes me want to read The Other, especially after hearing a couple of the attendees wax on about it. Eh, I don't think my heart could take it.

Chaon's new novel is scheduled to be on sale this Tuesday, August 25th.

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