On my way to the Litquake Book Ball last Friday, I managed to catch the question period following Dan Chaon's reading at Books Inc. I learned that Dan Chaon has a laugh like an engine that won't start properly. I heard him say that, when he was an MFA student, he was influenced by writers like Shirley Jackson and Peter Straub, but his teachers admonished him not to write genre fiction.
The author who Await Your Reply most reminds me of is actually Tim Powers. Both authors are drawn to the edge between reality and fantasy, a fertile breeding place for conspiracies. Both write fiction strongly rooted in the emotions of everyday life, even though the details tend towards the fantastic. Both create haunted worlds where more is going on than is at first apparent. However – and this is perhaps the enviable part – Chaon achieves this effect without having to do as much research as Tim Powers does.
But I don't know how many Tim Powers fans will read Await Your Reply. The borders between genres are sometimes very arbitrary.
Await Your Reply is about the scary side of a society where everyone's free to keep reinventing themselves, and how fragile our sense of identity is --
“And yet, there were times when his calm began to abandon him, brief moments – an unexplained IM, a suspicious clerk at the DMV, a credit card charge abruptly denied – and suddenly he'd feel that old panic crackling across the back of his neck, a shadow had been trailing after him all along, and suddenly he knew that if he turned to look over his shoulder, there it would be.”
Chaon told Bookslut that the story started as some Hitchcockian images in his head. The way the novel's three plot lines eventually combine is ingenious, and melancholy, and I believe rather technically original.
Dan Chaon has a long book tour ahead of him. I hope he isn't feeling too lonely out there. I hope nobody steals his identity. America is a dangerous place to send authors touring through – do they never fall through the cracks into imaginary dimensions? What if they start running into their own characters out there? Wait a minute... how do we even know that this guy claiming to be Dan Chaon is really Dan Chaon?