Dan Chaon’s new collection of stories finds the author of Await Your Reply revisiting familiar themes of isolation, abandonment, loss and identity. This time round, Chaon – no stranger to the dark impulses of people in crisis – focuses on the claustrophobic reality of lives lived in the surfeit of moments following traumatic events.
He has a knack for the dramatic (double suicides, conjoined twins and kidnapping all feature prominently), but there’s more than a beguiling premise animating these stories. His real quarry is the pervasive nature of trauma’s aftermath. Everyone here is caught in its slipstream, and what little relief Chaon does sanction outright often comes at too dear a price: brain damage and car accidents, for instance.
The men (and they are mostly men) in Stay Awake find solace clinging to seemingly arbitrary snippets of speech that drift through the text like impotent mantras. Catastrophes may take on uniquely horrific forms, but
what happens afterward is often eerily similar. Our shared humanity, Chaon seems to ironically suggest, lies in how well we can suffer.