The novel and the short story each aspire to a different kind of perfection. We think no less of Alice Munro because she...

AWAIT YOUR REPLY

A sprinter who excels at the 100-yard dash may never attempt a marathon. A poet who composes haiku might not be able to sustain an epic. Though writers of short stories are almost invariably encouraged to become novelists—a contract for a debut story collection is typically a bet hedged against the longer work to come—some authors who master the former don’t seem as well suited to the latter. Maybe it’s a question of scope, or even artistic stamina, but the novel requires a different mindset. It isn’t just a longer story.

Ohio’s Dan Chaon, whose two collections established him as one of America’s most promising short story writers, returns this fall with a second novel, Await Your Reply, easily his most ambitious work to date. As in his stories and previous novel (You Remind Me of Me, 2004), this book focuses on family dynamics, the quest for identity and the essence of the Heartland—in some ways, Chaon is to the Midwest what Richard Russo is to the Northeast—but the structure has an innovative audacity missing from his earlier, more straightforward work. The novel initially seems to be three separate narratives, presented in round-robin fashion, connected only by some plot similarities (characters on a quest or on the lam, a tragic loss of parents) and thematic underpinnings (the chimera of identity). One narrative concerns a college dropout who learns that the man he thought was his uncle is really his father, who recruits him for some criminal activity involving identity theft. The second involves an orphan who runs away with her high-school history teacher. The third features a twin in his 30s in search of his brother, likely a paranoid schizophrenic who occasionally sends messages yet refuses to be found. It’s a tribute to Chaon’s narrative command that each of these parallel narratives sustains the reader’s interest, even though there’s little indication through two-thirds of the novel that these stories will ever intersect. And when they do, the results are so breathtaking in their inevitability that the reader practically feels compelled to start the novel anew, just to discover the cues that he’s missed along the way.

The novel and the short story each aspire to a different kind of perfection. We think no less of Alice Munro because she reigns supreme in the shorter form (though her short stories are longer than most). We continue to hail William Trevor and Lorrie Moore primarily for the exquisiteness of their stories, though both have attempted novels as well (shorter than many). More recently, Donald Ray Pollock’s hard-hitting Knockemstiff, a debut collection of interrelated stories, could have easily been marketed as a novel. And Aleksander Hemon’s return to stories with Love and Obstacles could pass as a follow-up novel to his brilliant The Lazarus Project. With Chaon, one senses that there’s no going back. His stories established his early reputation. He did that. Now he’s doing this.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-345-47602-9

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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