Book Report: Stay Awake by Dan Chaon


This an excellent collection of creepy and mysterious short stories. If you’ve read Chaon before, you’ll know what to expect: gloomy midwesterners, suggestions of ghosts and painful pasts, an obsession with twins and changing identities, all written in his simple but vivid style. Highly recommended! The first story, “The Bees,” is the most creepy, disturbing, and nightmarish; read it first or last depending on whether that appeals to you or not.

Another I particularly liked is “To Psychic Underworld:,” about a widowed father who keeps finding (and collecting) little notes and lists and scraps of paper he finds, a habit I have, as well. He describes the appeal, mystery, and sadness of finding such things well:

Now, suddenly, it seemed that there were notes everywhere, emerging out of the blur of the world. Something had happened to him not that Beth was gone, he thought—there was an opening, a space, a part of his brain that had been deaf before was now exposed, it was as if he were a long-dormant radio that had begun to receive signals—tuned in, abruptly, to all the crazy note-writers of the world.

“Please,” someone had written on a napkin and left it on the table in McDonald’s, where he had taken Hazel for a little peaceful snack, a casual Toledo afternoon, but now here was this other voice poking its head through the surface of his consciousness like a worm peeking up out of the ground. “Please,” in ballpoint pen on the napkin. And then “Please” on the napkin underneath it, and “Please” again on a third. Someone was either very polite or very desperate.