Sunday, May 19, 2013

Completed: Await Your Reply


I picked up this book after The Making of the Atomic Bomb thinking it would be a pretty fast read and would get me back on track for May. How gratifying to be right!

My old neighbor Laura let me borrow this book. This confession leaves me feeling slightly guilty because it's been *years* since we moved. On the other hand, at this point in my life, pretty much any book I lend to people I assume I won't get back. If it's a book I want to keep, I simply won't let anyone borrow it. Let's hope Laura is operating on the same idea!

This is one of those novels I pretty much read cold, so not a whole lot of expectations going in...just hoping for a good read. I've gotta tell you, this book starts off with a doozy of a scene: a young man named Ryan is in a car, traveling to the hospital at top speed. His father is driving. Ryan's severed hand is in the ice chest on the back seat. Ryan and his father have gotten tangled up with some gangsters and one of them has chopped off Ryan's hand. Ew.

However, the next chapter switches to a new character, a young girl named Lucy who has just graduated from high school. She and her teacher have run away together, agreeing that the townspeople would never understand their love. Double Ew.

The next chapter introduces yet another main character, this one a man in his 30s named Miles. Miles lives a pretty sad, lonely life in Cleveland. His identical twin brother, Hayden, has been missing for at least ten years. Miles thinks he's on the trail of his brother and takes off for Northern Canada. (Finally, a plot line that doesn't gross me out!)

The book continues to alternate chapters of the three main sets of characters, following them on their misadventures. And I've got to tell you, there are some rather fabulous and far-fetched adventures. The writing was sharp and the whole thing was tightly plotted. I wouldn't say the characters are totally believable. Lucy, for example, is a total nitwit. She was annoying. Miles was determined but dull. Sad to say, this book suffered a bit from the Paradise Lost problem: the thieves, hooligans, and bad guys were definitely the most compelling characters. But it moved along at a good clip and I definitely enjoyed reading it.

Will you ever read this book? Can I spoil the hell out of it?


Something that becomes immediately pretty clear is the strong possibility, eventually a certainty that Miles is searching in the wrong place for Hayden, because obviously he's going by the name of George Orson and living in Nebraska with Lucy. I assumed for most of the book that Ryan's father Jay was simply an accomplice of George/Hayden. However, as the book ends, we understand that the three plots are not happening concurrently, and that Hayden was Jay first, and then took on the George persona. So, the whole thing definitely has a "what the fuck!" type of ending. I will admit that I didn't really see that coming; even after it was revealed, it took me a few minutes to put it all back together in my head and recognize the author's slights of hand.

I guess the thing that was sort of strange for me is that the novel's theme is clearly about the question of identity: is there any such thing? Can one slough off an old life at the drop of a hat? What kind of person leaves it all behind, and what kind of people are left behind after them? Honestly, it was sort of a head scratcher for me. I'm used to books about the theme of identity--I'm a middle school teacher! But this is about adult identity being as changeable as a pair of pants. I just kept finding myself thinking: do people really think like this? I mean, sure, I've had pleasant daydreams where I've imagined an alternate life. But to actually act it out? To just pick up and leave it all behind? I can sort of get the appeal for Ryan and Lucy, who are just starting out their lives. But it doesn't help to know, according to the narrative arc of his brother, that Hayden/George/Jay is a paranoid schizophrenic. Sure, you could up and leave your whole life behind and dedicate yourself to crime: IF YOU'RE CRAZY. It's sort of weird way to explore the notion of identity, and to be honest I'm not sure it works.

It was a good book. I liked it, But it just felt like one of those "in and out" reads. I'm not sure how much of this will stick with me.


1 comment:

  1. Maybe that's the point? The only people who could *possibly* throw away an old life and start over completely from scratch... are crazy. Or, more accurately, only a crazy person could do that. The non-crazies are stuck with dealing with what they have the hard way?

    Also, you bring up something interesting with your "pleasant daydreams" comment... how "real" does a piece of fiction need to be for us to "buy" it? Meaning, if this book was established as, say, fantasy, and this guy started a whole new life regularly, would it be easier for you to accept? (Saying: "Oh, well -- this isn't real anyway...") Because, by its very nature, fiction is not "real," right?

    I think a lot about "believability" in fiction because I'm pretty tolerant (maybe gullible?) of things that I think other people find "unbelievable" (particularly regarding human behavior). One person's daydream *might* be another person's reality, right? Or... I'm just super naive (which may very well be). I feel like things are weird in my head, so I really have no idea how other people's heads work. (I guess the science of Psychology kind of answers that question -- I just don't think much about it when reading, perhaps?)

    I'm sort of rambling here, but I frequently witness behavior that I really do not *understand* and have to ask Bill, "Okay... what is going on with that person? What do you think their story is?" He's usually got some good idea and I think "Okay. I see that." (On the other hand, I am usually the person to think, "Oh, maybe they're having a bad day..." when someone is a jackass to me at a store or something. That seems like a contradiction, but maybe it just supports the "I don't understand people" thing... you know... I don't get that they really *are* just a jackass. Heh.)

    For me, the way this translates in reading is, "Well, I wouldn't do that, but... I guess other people would..." But maybe the truth is that an author has a daydream ("start a new life"), writes a piece of fiction, and then simply incorporates the daydream into it. I mean... they dreamt up the entire rest of the world in the book, why not add the unlikely ability to drop one's life and start completely anew to the mix?