christa's Reviews > Stay Awake

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon
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Feb 16, 2012

really liked it
Read in February, 2012

The characters in Dan Chaon’s short story collection “Stay Awake” are quiet. They have experienced loss: a person, themselves or a ring finger that popped off after a nasty spill from a ladder. Maybe they are leaving something. Or maybe they aren’t even aware yet of the loss, like baby Rosalie, born with an additional head, part of another baby that did not form and has been surgically removed. Her father imagines for her a time in the future when the girl will wake and hear a voice in her head say: “Hello. I’m still here. I’m still with you.” They are haunted.

In one, a man who was the first one on the scene -- so early he actually heard a clomp -- when his parents both commit suicide in their bedroom. They’ve left a note on the door instructing him to call the police, but not go into their bedroom. He holes up in a single room of the house, wrapped in his necessities, and in a rapid state of mental decline.

Teenagers lose a baby and all around them the grief of others is tinged with the relief that they have dodged a life-long anchor and a game changer. Except the couple, who had already re-imagined life in this new way, married, jobs, a child. A man, fresh from a heart attack, returns to all of his bad habits on a business trip and is caught in a lonely spiral. In another, a man kidnaps his meth-head girlfriend’s child.

In my favorite story Critter’s wife has died and he and his young daughter are staying with his sister. He keeps finding handwritten notes fluttering in the wind or left behind places He finds a note on the sidewalk after his wife’s funeral: “To psychic underworld: stop astral traveling to molest/deceive (animals too). Animals are not made of hate. Cease and desist.” This is just the sort of thing his wife would have enjoyed. His sister has a collection, too, including: “Hi. I had cyber sex!! With a guy named Eric! I love sex!!”

“Something had happened to him now that Beth was gone, he thought -- there was an opening, a space, a part of his brain that had been deaf before was now exposed, it was as if he were a long-dormant radio that had begun to receive signals -- tuned in, abruptly, to all the crazy note-writers of the world.”

These stories are all so similar in tone, a low level of creepy and the kinds of summer bonfire tales you sink into so hard you forget you’re reading and scenes just act out in your eyeballs. These characters seem all seem a little bit related, like distant cousins different towns with the same shaped nose and vaguely recognizable mannerisms.

They are tinged with good humor and intrigue and unpredictable wrenches. And they are all a little psychologically eerie if not downright spooky: like ghost faces in the window or hearing a nose in another room of your empty house.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Carrie (new) - added it

Carrie Boberg This sounds fascinating! Is this a collection of short stories?

christa Yeah. Good stuff!

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