One Read Author Dan Chaon
by Doyne McKenzie, Collection Development Manager
Originally published by Columbia Daily Tribune.
Like many good authors, Dan Chaon writes about what he knows and bases his settings and characters on places and people he is familiar with. Throughout his short stories and novels, he pulls experiences from his Midwestern upbringing in western Nebraska and from his personal experience with being adopted. He also interjects topics he finds intriguing, and you can trace these through his evolution from short story writer to novelist. Random House describes Chaon’s characters in his short story collection “Among the Missing” (Ballantine, 2001) as living “far outside the American Dream” and struggling with their life paths.
Chaon published his first stories in national journals during his senior year in college and has appeared more than once in both the Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize series as well as many other anthologies. He has also published two short story collections and two novels, which appeared on several “best of the year” lists. He continues writing while also serving as the Pauline Delaney professor of creative writing and English at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio.
Many in our community have enjoyed reading this year’s One Read selection “Await Your Reply” by Chaon. Below is a listing of some of his other short story collections and novels you might wish to read. Some description might reveal more than you wish to know in advance of reading the book, so reader beware.
“Fitting Ends: Stories” (Triquarterly, 1995) is Chaon’s first collection of short stories; in it he explores relationships, family burdens and sexual confusion. Like the 30-something author, the characters grapple with reconciling their youthful expectations with the grim reality of their post-college, entry-level existence and personal disruptions in daily life. In the story “Dread,” the narrator exposes his sibling’s marital unfaithfulness, and in “Transformations” a younger brother shares the story of his older brother’s homecoming and homosexual coming-out.
Chaon’s National Book Award finalist collection, “Among the Missing” reveals characters who have literally or figuratively disappeared and examines the effect on those left behind. His fascination with self emerges through his characters, with their troubled childhoods, stifled dreams and daily struggles. In “Safety Man,” a widow and her children substitute an inflatable dummy for their husband/father, and in “I Demand to Know Where You’re Taking Me,” a woman redirects her anger with her brother-in-law toward his pet parrot.
With “You Remind Me of Me” (Ballantine, 2004), Chaon emerges as a novelist. The book opens with a series of vignettes that morph into a novel as the isolated stories converge. Unwed Norma gives up infant Troy to adoption by the Timmenses. Troy grows up to be a well-meaning bartender and occasional drug-dealer who is devoted to his 6-year-old son, Loomis. After his wife disappears, Troy’s mother-in-law fights for custody of Loomis. Norma’s second son, Jonah, whom she raised, suffers from disfiguring facial scarring after being mauled by his grandfather’s Doberman pinscher. Following Norma’s suicide, Jonah reconnects with his half-brother Troy and signs on as a line cook at Troy’s bar. He attempts to ingratiate himself and resolve the custody dispute by snatching Loomis.
Questions of lost and redefined identity and sense of self permeate this year’s One Read book, “Await Your Reply” (Ballantine, 2009). From the first gripping chapter, the reader worries about the three protagonists’ fates and begins to wonder how the stories will converge. Ryan Schuyler is being rushed to an emergency room by his father, Jay, to have his severed hand reattached. Miles Cheshire is driving to the Arctic Circle to find his long-lost twin, Hayden. And orphan Lucy Lattimore is marooned with her former high school teacher and current lover George Orson at his dead parents’ gothic mansion overlooking their abandoned motel in western Nebraska.