Picks and Pans Review: A Twisty Mystery

UPDATED 08/31/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/31/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Dan Chaon |

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Twins Miles and Hayden Cheshire—whose midwestern, middle-class dad works variously as a clown, a magician, a motivational speaker and a hypnotist—are taught early on that identity is an illusion. "Learn what it is like in another life," the mutable Larry Cheshire tells his sons. "People choose their lives. What will you choose for yourselves?" In this dark, deliciously disturbing literary thriller, Chaon sends the twins—and other lost souls—into ominous settings where they shed their old personas, with startling consequences. Hayden, a schizophrenic, seems to vanish into the Arctic; another unsettled character fakes his own death and becomes a con man. Chaon's protagonists are limned with supreme skill: Even before her parents died, precocious Lucy Lattimore (who runs away with her high school English teacher) saw them as insubstantial, Chaon writes: "She herself had come from a long, long line of . . . nobodies, stretching back for generations. You could draw her family in two dimensions, like characters in a comic strip." In the end, Await Your Reply is a story that unfolds with chilling precision. You'll be spellbound from start to finish.

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