Await Your Reply follows three distinct storylines all revolving around the same theme: identity. Miles Cheshire is searching for his schizophrenic twin brother, Lucy has just run off with her history teacher, and Ryan has dropped out of college to live with the father he had been led to believe was just an uncle. It is unclear almost to the very end how these characters connect to each other, though how they resemble each other is made extremely clear from the first few chapters.
Each character is given an opportunity to remake themselves, to become a different person. Miles struggles with this, unable to be anyone other than who he really is, while Ryan becomes many different people through fake bank accounts and identities. Lucy is pushed by her history teacher lover to take on new identities though she is hesitant.
The stories themselves were engaging (though some more than others, I often found myself wishing Miles would shut up already about his lost brother so I could see how things were going with Lucy in that abandoned Lighthouse Motel she’s forced to live in). The underlying theme of identity felt heavy-handed in many parts, and I often felt like telling Chaon to cool it already, we get it. It also felt as if Chaon merely scratched the surface of “identity” in this novel and that he could have taken the theme to much deeper levels but chose not to for the sake of keeping this novel moving more like a mystery novel than an existentialist one.
While the novel is rather quick-paced and engaging, it’s also deeply sad. Each character is unbelievably lost in not only the world but within themselves. Each pushed by a person in their life (Miles’ brother, Lucy’s lover, Ryan’s father) to be someone they aren’t, to change into someone new. And while they all are unhappy with who they currently are, there isn’t really anyone else they would rather be.
There a few twists and turns towards the end of the novel, but I’ll leave those for you to discover yourself. If you are new to Dan Chaon, I would suggest reading his collection of short fiction Among the Missing and this novel.