Originally published in Time Out New York.Stay Awake
, 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 around, 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.
In "The Bees," Gene is haunted by memories of the family he abandoned when his son begins having night terrors. In "I Wake Up," a phone call starts foster kid Robbie on a journey that will force him to confront the gory details of a night that changed everything for him. "Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow" finds a high-school basketball star burying more than a dead infant. And surviving a heart attack may have been the worst break traveling salesman Dave Deagle ever got in "Take This, Brother, May It Serve You Well."
Chaon 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. Catastophes 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.