cover image Stay Awake

Stay Awake

Dan Chaon. Ballantine, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-345-53037-0

With this arresting collection, Chaon again demonstrates his mastery of the short story. In the hypnotic ”The Bees,” a young boy screams in his sleep for no reason; he’s suffered no known distress. He doesn’t even seem to be having nightmares. The boy’s father, greatly disturbed, soon finds his own dark past threatening to overwhelm his present. In the title story, Zach and Amber’s baby girl is born with an incompletely formed conjoined twin. When Zach narrowly survives death before a highly risky operation to separate the twins, this already fragile family is strained to the breaking point. An electrician named Critter, living with his young daughter in Toledo, Ohio, after the death of his wife, keeps found notes despite their troubling nature, in “To Psychic Underworld:.” Chaon’s protagonists are plagued by common traumas and struggle to rectify their decisions with the external forces of fate. More often than not, characters are stuck in an eddy that seems inescapable, yet which is also a moment’s isolation from the surrounding flow. Chaon (Await Your Reply) brings readers fantastically close, slowly drawing them into the anxiety or loneliness or remorse of his characters, and building great anticipation for the twists to come. Agent: Noah Lukeman, Lukeman Literary Management. (Feb. 7)