Stay Awake

Stay Awake

by Dan Chaon


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345530370
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/07/2012
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; You Remind Me of Me, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications; and Await Your Reply, which was a New York Times Notable Book and appeared on more than a dozen “Best of the Year” lists. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and he was the recipient of the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College, where he is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing.

Read an Excerpt

The Bees

Gene's son Frankie wakes up screaming. It has become frequent, two or three times a week, at random times: midnight-three a.m.-five in the morning. Here is a high, empty wail that severs Gene from his unconsciousness like sharp teeth. It is the worst sound that Gene can imagine, the sound of a young child dying violently-falling from a building, or caught in some machinery that is tearing an arm off, or being mauled by a predatory animal. No matter how many times he hears it he jolts up with such images playing in his mind, and he always runs, thumping into the child's bedroom to find Frankie sitting up in bed, his eyes closed, his mouth open in an oval like a Christmas caroler. If someone took a picture of him, he would appear to be in a kind of peaceful trance, as if he were waiting to receive a spoonful of ice cream, rather than emitting that horrific sound.

"Frankie!" Gene will shout, and claps his hands hard in the child's face. The clapping works well. At this, the scream always stops abruptly, and Frankie opens his eyes, blinking at Gene with vague awareness before settling back down into his pillow, nuzzling a little before growing still. He is sound asleep, he is always sound asleep, though even after months Gene can't help leaning down and pressing his ear to the child's chest, to make sure he's still breathing, his heart is still going. It always is.

There is no explanation that they can find. In the morning, Frankie doesn't remember anything, and on the few occasions that they have managed to wake him in the midst of one of his screaming attacks, he is merely sleepy and irritable. Once, Gene's wife, Karen, shook him and shook him, until finally he opened his eyes groggily. "Honey?" she said. "Honey? Did you have a bad dream?" But Frankie only moaned a little. "No," he said, puzzled and unhappy at being awakened, but nothing more.

They can find no pattern to it. It can happen any day of the week, any time of the night. It doesn't seem to be associated with diet, or with his activities during the day, and it doesn't stem, as far as they can tell, from any sort of psychological unease. During the day, he seems perfectly normal and happy.

They have taken him several times to the pediatrician, but the doctor seems to have little of use to say. There is nothing wrong with the child physically, Dr. Banerjee says. She advises that such things were not uncommon for children of Frankie's age group-he is five-and that more often than not, the disturbance simply passes away.

"He hasn't experienced any kind of emotional trauma, has he?" the doctor says. "Nothing out of the ordinary at home?"

"No, no," they both murmur, together. They shake their heads, and Dr. Banerjee shrugs. "Parents," she says. "It's probably nothing to worry about." She gives them a brief smile. "As difficult as it is, I'd say that you may just have to weather this out."

But the doctor has never heard those screams. In the mornings after the "nightmares," as Karen calls them, Gene feels unnerved, edgy. He works as a driver for the United Parcel Service, and as he moves through the day after a screaming attack, there is a barely perceptible hum at the edge of his hearing, an intent, deliberate static sliding along behind him as he wanders through streets and streets in his van. He stops along the side of the road and listens. The shadows of summer leaves tremble murmurously against the windshield, and cars are accelerating on a nearby road. In the treetops, a cicada makes its trembly, pressure-cooker hiss.

Something bad has been looking for him for a long time, he thinks, and now, at last, it is growing near.

When he comes home at night everything is normal. They live in an old house in the suburbs of Cleveland, and sometimes after dinner they work together in the small patch of garden out in back of the house- tomatoes, zucchini, string beans, cucumbers-while Frankie plays with Legos in the dirt. Or they take walks around the neighborhood, Frankie riding his bike in front of them, his training wheels squeaking. They gather on the couch and watch cartoons together, or play board games, or draw pictures with crayons. After Frankie is asleep, Karen will sit at the kitchen table and study-she is in nursing school-and Gene will sit outside on the porch, flipping through a newsmagazine or a novel, smoking the cigarettes that he has promised Karen he will give up when he turns thirty-five. He is thirty-four now, and Karen is twenty- seven, and he is aware, more and more frequently, that this is not the life that he deserves. He has been incredibly lucky, he thinks. Blessed, as Gene's favorite cashier at the supermarket always says. "Have a blessed day," she says, when Gene pays the money and she hands him his receipt, and he feels as if she has sprinkled him with her ordinary, gentle beatitude. It reminds him of long ago, when an old nurse had held his hand in the hospital and said that she was praying for him.

Sitting out in his lawn chair, drawing smoke out of his cigarette, he thinks about that nurse, even though he doesn't want to. He thinks of the way she'd leaned over him and brushed his hair as he stared at her, imprisoned in a full body cast, sweating his way through withdrawal and DTs.

He had been a different person, back then. A drunk, a monster. At eighteen, he married the girl he'd gotten pregnant, and then had set about slowly, steadily, ruining all their lives. When he'd abandoned them, his wife and son, back in Nebraska, he had been twenty-four, a danger to himself and others. He'd done them a favor by leaving, he thought, though he still feels guilty when he looks back on it. Years later, when he was sober, he even tried to contact them. He wanted to own up to his behavior, to pay the back child support, to apologize. But they were nowhere to be found. Mandy was no longer living in the small Nebraska town where they'd met and married, and there was no forwarding address. Her parents were dead. No one seemed to know where she'd gone.

Karen didn't know the full story. She had been, to his relief, uncurious about his previous life, though she knew he had some drinking days, some bad times. She knew that he'd been married before, too, though she didn't know the extent of it, didn't know that he had another son, for example, didn't know that he had left them one night, without even packing a bag, just driving off in the car, a flask tucked between his legs, driving east as far as he could go. She didn't know about the car crash, the wreck he should have died in. She didn't know what a bad person he'd been.

She was a nice lady, Karen. Maybe a little sheltered. And truth to tell, he was ashamed-and even scared-to imagine how she would react to the truth about his past. He didn't know if she would have ever really trusted him if she'd known the full story, and the longer they have known each other the less inclined he has been to reveal it. He'd escaped his old self, he thought, and when Karen got pregnant, shortly before they were married, he told himself that now he had a chance to do things over, to do it better. They had bought the house together, he and Karen, and now Frankie will be in kindergarten in the fall. He has come full circle, has come exactly to the point when his former life with Mandy and his son, DJ, completely fell apart. He looks up as Karen comes to the back door and speaks to him through the screen. "I think it's time for bed, sweetheart," she says, and he shudders off these thoughts, these memories. He smiles.

He's been in a strange frame of mind lately. The months of regular awakenings have been getting to him, and he has a hard time going back to sleep after an episode with Frankie. When Karen wakes him in the morning, he often feels muffled, sluggish-as if he's hungover. He doesn't hear the alarm clock. When he stumbles out of bed, he finds he has a hard time keeping his moodiness in check. He can feel his temper coiling up inside him.

He isn't that type of person anymore, and hasn't been for a long while. Still, he can't help but worry. They say that there is a second stretch of craving, which sets in after several years of smooth sailing; five or seven years will pass, and then it will come back without warning. He has been thinking of going to AA meetings again, though he hasn't in some time-not since he met Karen.

It's not as if he gets trembly every time he passes a liquor store, or even as if he has a problem when he goes out with buddies and spends the evening drinking soda and nonalchoholic beer. No. The trouble comes at night, when he's asleep.

He has begun to dream of his first son. DJ. Perhaps it is related to his worries about Frankie, but for several nights in a row the image of DJ-age about five-has appeared to him. In the dream, Gene is drunk, and playing hide-and-seek with DJ in the yard behind the Cleveland house where he is now living. There is the thick weeping willow out there, and Gene watches the child appear from behind it and run across the grass, happy, unafraid, the way Frankie would. DJ turns to look over his shoulder and laughs, and Gene stumbles after him, at least a six-pack's worth of good mood, a goofy, drunken dad. It's so real that when he wakes, he still feels intoxicated. It takes him a few minutes to shake it.

One morning after a particularly vivid version of this dream, Frankie wakes and complains of a funny feeling-"right here"-he says, and points to his forehead. It isn't a headache, he says. "It's like bees!" he says. "Buzzing bees!" He rubs his hand against his brow. "Inside my head." He considers for a moment. "You know how the bees bump against the window when they get in the house and want to get out?" This description pleases him, and he taps his forehead lightly with his fingers, humming, "Zzzzzzz," to demonstrate.

"Does it hurt?" Karen says.

"No," Frankie says. "It tickles."

Karen gives Gene a concerned look. She makes Frankie lie down on the couch, and tells him to close his eyes for a while. After a few minutes, he raises up, smiling, and says that the feeling has gone.

"Honey, are you sure?" Karen says. She pushes her hair back and slides her palm across his forehead. "He's not hot," she says, and Frankie sits up impatiently, suddenly more interested in something that is happening on the Fuzzy Fieldmouse show, which is playing on the TV in the living room.

Karen gets out one of her nursing books, and Gene watches her face tighten with concern as she flips slowly through the pages. She is looking at Chapter 3: Neurological System, and Gene observes as she pauses here and there, skimming down a list of symptoms. "We should probably take him back to Dr. Banerjee again," she says. Gene nods, recalling what the doctor said about "emotional trauma."

"Are you scared of bees?" he asks Frankie. "Is that something that's bothering you?"

"No," Frankie says. "Not really."

When Frankie was three, a bee stung him above his left eyebrow. They had been out hiking together, and they hadn't yet learned that Frankie was "moderately allergic" to bee stings. Within minutes of the sting, Frankie's face had begun to distort, to puff up, his eye welling shut. He looked deformed. Gene didn't know if he'd ever been more frightened in his entire life, running down the trail with Frankie's head pressed against his heart, trying to get to the car and drive him to the doctor, terrified that the child was dying. Frankie himself was calm.

Gene clears his throat. He knows the feeling that Frankie is talking about-he has felt it himself, that odd, feathery vibration inside his head. And in fact he feels it again, now. He presses the pads of his fingertips against his brow. Emotional trauma, his mind murmurs, but he is thinking of DJ, not Frankie.

"What are you scared of?" Gene asks Frankie, after a moment. "Anything?"

"You know what the scariest thing is?" Frankie says, and widens his eyes, miming a frightened look. "There's a lady with no head, and she went walking through the woods, looking for it. 'Give . . . me . . . back . . . my . . . head . . .' "

"Where on earth did you hear a story like that!" Karen says.

"Daddy told me," Frankie says. "When we were camping."

Gene blushes, even before Karen gives him a sharp look. "Oh, great," she says. "Wonderful."

He doesn't meet her eyes. "We were just telling ghost stories," he says, softly. "I thought he would think the story was funny."

"My God, Gene," she says. "With him having nightmares like this? What were you thinking?"

It's a bad flashback, the kind of thing he's usually able to avoid. He thinks abruptly of Mandy, his former wife. He sees in Karen's face that look Mandy would give him when he screwed up. "What are you, some kind of idiot?" Mandy used to say. "Are you crazy?" Back then, Gene couldn't do anything right, it seemed, and when Mandy yelled at him it made his stomach clench with shame and inarticulate rage. I was trying, he would think, I was trying, damn it, and it was as if no matter what he did, it wouldn't turn out right. That feeling would sit heavily in his chest, and eventually, when things got worse, he hit her once. "Why do you want me to feel like shit," he said through clenched teeth. "I'm not an asshole," he said, and when she rolled her eyes at him he slapped her hard enough to knock her out of her chair.

That was the time he'd taken DJ to the carnival. It was a Saturday, and he'd been drinking a little, so Mandy didn't like it, but after all-he thought-DJ was his son, too, he had a right to spend some time with his own son, Mandy wasn't his boss even if she might think she was. She liked to make him hate himself.

What she was mad about was that he'd taken DJ on the Velocerator. It was a mistake, he'd realized afterward. But DJ himself had begged to go on. He was just recently four years old, and Gene had just turned twenty-three, which made him feel inexplicably old. He wanted to have a little fun.

Besides, nobody told him he couldn't take DJ on the thing. When he led DJ through the gate, the ticket taker even smiled, as if to say, "Here is a young guy showing his kid a good time." Gene winked at DJ and grinned, taking a nip from a flask of peppermint schnapps. He felt like a good dad. He wished his own father had taken him on rides at the carnival!

The door to the Velocerator opened like a hatch in a big silver flying saucer. Disco music was blaring from the entrance and became louder as they went inside. It was a circular room with soft, padded walls, and one of the workers had Gene and DJ stand with their backs to the wall, strapping them in side by side. Gene felt warm and expansive from the schnapps. He took DJ's hand, and he almost felt as if he were glowing with love. "Get ready, kiddo," Gene whispered. "This is going to be wild."

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Eerily beautiful . . . [Chaon] is the modern day John Cheever.”—Boston Sunday Globe
“Powerful and disturbing . . . The shocks in this collection are many.”—The Washington Post
“Chaon is able to create fully realized characters in mere pages. . . . This collection is further proof that Chaon is one of the best fiction writers working right now.”—Omaha World-Herald
“There are not many fiction writers who can do what Dan Chaon can do. . . . [He is] a literary force.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Intense and suspenseful . . . a highly recommended work, not to be missed.”—Library Journal
“Mesmerizing . . . gripping, masterful fiction.”—The Plain Dealer
“Superbly disquieting.”—The New York Times Book Review

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Stay Awake 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
charlottesweb93 More than 1 year ago
Dan Chaon has gathered a collection of terrifying, chilling, and haunting stories. All with the underlying theme of sleep or lack thereof. But I urge you to read this book during daylight hours, for his stories are bound to make you want to Stay Awake.
Coyote99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Requested because I liked earlier works, but this was a little too dark for me. Very well written and creepy, these stories will linger in your mind. I would definitely recommend to fans of the dark side.
Griff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dark, haunting stories which include characters that feel all too real. These are well written and convincing. It is hard to put the book down: these are not "pleasurable stories", yet one feels compelled to move forward relentlessly. They evoke an emotional and visceral reaction that is difficult to set aside. I would not recommend to all without describing the general feel of the book, providing a caution about the angst that is generated story after story. From my perspective, an excellent read.
mymia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best one word description for this collection of stories would be "unsettling." The stories have all the components of horror stories and some reminded me of the old campfire stories where the listener is drawn further in, until the surprising shock ending. But the theme that unifies the stories is the dark depths of the emotions of the main characters. I found the book a good read but had to set it aside half way through due to the dark emotional content. I liked that the stories did not fit one set pattern and that each left me with a different response: wonder, shock, horror or intrigue. Some of the endings left me hoping to know what would happen next. This collection is totally worthwhile but might be best enjoyed in small doses.
detailmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stay Awake collects a dozen short stories about (mostly) Midwest men who are emotionally, physically and/or psychologically displaced after (sometimes years after) the loss of parents, spouse or child. The bleak settings and just-getting-by characters remind me of Bonnie Jo Campbell¿s American Salvage, although 10 of the 12 stories here are in the male point of view. In fact, this is the first book I¿ve been moved to tag ¿men¿ (i.e. about men); I can think of many more now to tag that way, yet wasn¿t moved to do so until this collection.In the first story, a man estranged from the son from his first marriage begins worrying about his son from his second. In the last, three sisters riff on the night their father came home to kill their mother and them. The stories in between open with an adult son who continues to live in his childhood home where his parents committed suicide; a couple with newborn conjoined twins; another having suffered a miscarriage; a man and the young son of his meth-addict girlfriend; a woman who keeps company with her ex-husband who suffered a debilitating brain injury some years after their divorce; a man whose estranged eldest sister starts calling him on the phone.The stories are solemn, reflective, even sad. One is nearly horror and another is mystical/supernatural. Many have surprising or ambiguous endings. I was engaged enough to finish every story and fully loved three-fourths of them. I¿m looking forward to more Chaon -- first up, his previous collection, Among the Missing.
kgallagher625 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a collecton of horror stories with most of the traditional horror trappings. The main source of horror, however, is in the nature and circumstances of the characters. I was genuinely unsettled by some of these bleak selections with their themes of loss, grief, and abandonment. Dan Chaon is a wonderful writer, and his stories remind me of Joyce Carol Oates's short stories, and I mean that as a very high compliment. A couple of the stories seemed familiar to me, as if I had read them before. Or possibly they are so resonant that they have a deja vu thing going on. A satisfying and creepy read.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was very impressed with this book of Dan Chaon's short stories. It makes me sorry that I haven't read any of his other books yet, but that's something I'm going to remedy. This is a book of engaging short stories which focus on different characters in a vaiety of locations. All of them involve difficult or even bizarre family situations. There is a great deal of pain that the each of the characters is working through. The author uses words so well. By stringing them together the way he does, he is able to depict what wants to say in a way that is sharp but full of irony at the same time."Take This, Brother, May it Serve You Well" is my favorite story of this collection. It tells of a lawyer whose wife has died of cancer and he becomes lost in the rain while bar-hopping. The person who shelters him from the rain takes him into what appears to be a warehouse but then seems to take on the aspect of a place of danger rather than relief.Here's a line from "Take This, Brother, May It Serve You Well" ...Aargh!" he cries aloud, and his anguished cry echoes against the side of the buildings, the sounds bouncing back and forth and shrinking at last to a whisper imperceptible to human ears. "Slowly We open Our Eyes" is my second favorite story. O'Sullivan is a man who lived a pretty messed-up life until he reached the point at which he needed to return home to California. He did so by hitching a ride with his truck-driving brother. On the road, the two became involved in a strange road accident that seemed to have been caused by a deer.This is a terrific book and one sure to fulfill a desire to read short stories that are a bit different.
TheTwoDs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stay Awake offers a collection of stories with a unifying theme of loss - physical, emotional, mental - tacit and implicit - sudden and traumatic - melancholic and resulting from profound states of ennui. Clearly, the loss of Chaon's wife permeates these pages, almost making them a form of therapy.Characters lose loved ones, lose themselves, lose track of the comings and goings of life, the passage of time. The grief is nearly palpable, yet never maudlin. Stories vex genrification, yet could easily be included in anthologies of horror, though more of the cerebral type.This is life in the early, recession bound 21st century - an existence defined by loss of control, burned in a pyrrhic offering that can only engender further loss. Babies dies, babies live, children are abandoned, lives are uprooted, yet one can never escape the past.I highly recommend this, for its technically skillful writing, language of palpable loss and ability to reveal grief in its many forms.
MsNick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The twelve short stories featured in Stay Awake by Dan Chaon depict the lives of everyday people who have found themselves in highly unlikely, eerie (even sinister) situations. Chaon has always written delightfully descriptive prose, which can be enjoyed in Stay Awake, but I think that the majority of the stories came to an end too abruptly. I can appreciate the author's wanting to give the reader something to think about by leaving some things unsaid, but there were many tales where I wanted more insight into a certain character or just a little bit more of an ending. For the most part, this book was an entertaining (and rather macabre ¿ as promised) read. I enjoyed all but three of the included tales. For readers unfamiliar with Dan Chaon's work, however, I would recommend his novel Await Your Reply instead.
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dan Choan¿s latest is a collection of creepy, haunting stories. Death is a recurring theme, as is violence. Loneliness and unhappiness appear often. Brace yourself, but if you can handle the despair, you¿ll be rewarded with stories that are eerily perceptive and unsettling.
psychomamma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This may be an unfair review, because I really don't like short stories. I did request the book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program, because I love Dan Chaon. He does not disappoint in this book - the writing is hauntingly beautiful, if a bit dark. Seems like the theme is terrible childhoods, foster homes, missing limbs and murder/suicides. But if you like short stories, definitely pick this one up. Me, I wanted more - more character development, more of what comes next...all the things you don't get in a short story.
woodsathome on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The short stories in Dan Chaon's newest book Stay Awake are well-written and engaging. They are also deeply, deeply disturbing.If you are someone who is struggling with depression or has suffered a recent loss avoid this book at all costs. If there isn't a tragic car accident or a suicide, there is a child born with a malformed heart or, I'm not kidding, two heads.If however, you are reasonably well-adjusted this collection is truly magnificent.. There is a level of honesty in the stories that you seldom really find in fiction. What happened is ultimately less important that who people really are when the worst has happened.It is ultimately as rewarding as it is disturbing. Read it. Just don't read it at night or, as the title implies, you'll Stay Awake.
Jenners26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book DescriptionA collection of disturbing and unsettling short stories dealing mostly with death, loss and grief, Stay Awake is short on words but long on atmosphere, dread and strangeness. The tone of each story is like a horrible bad dream. In fact, the epigraph that begins the book sets the tone quite effectively:I had a dream I was awake and I woke up to find myself asleep. -- Stan LaurelHere are some brief descriptions of the stories to give you a feel for the tone of the book. In Stay Awake, a young couple's baby is born with two heads (one is considered the "parasitic" twin) and they must decide what to do about the second head. In The Bees, a father is haunted by the family he left behind years ago, in ways that are very dangerous to his current family. In Long Delayed, Always Expected, a divorcee faces a loneliness that is mitigated when her brain-damaged ex-husband comes to play a surprising new role in her life. In To Psychic Underworld:, a widowed man becomes a magnet for notes written by desperate people. In Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted, we meet a young man trapped in his family's decaying home, haunted by the double suicide of his parents.My ThoughtsThis book was extremely unsettling. Most of the stories left me with feelings of dread and uneasiness. All of the characters are haunted--by their past misdeeds, loss, memories. Although the stories are not interconnected, I often found myself thinking "Wait ... is this the woman with the pears from the other story?" It happened often enough that I began to think that perhaps the stories were intertwined in a loose way. Certainly, the stories are tied together by recurring themes and images: suicide, car accidents, falling from ladders, the death of children, loss, alcoholism. This is a bleak and dreary landscape that Chaon is working in, and he treads this ground like he is a regular inhabitant of this type of psychic place.Although short stories often leave me wanting more, I found myself willing to leave these poor tortured souls at the end of each story. The endings always left me with a sense of melancholia. I was content to tiptoe away and return to my happy, sunny life. In a way, these felt like stories by Stephen King without the gore and supernatural elements. At King's best, he captures the pain and horror of life in a way that feels inhabited and real. Chaon does the same, and I found myself glad I was reading these stories in short doses.If you're in the mood for highly atmospheric and unsettling stories filled with loss and dread, I'd highly recommend this collection. It would be a perfect RIP read. The writing is very good, but the subject matter is so dark and depressing that I'd wait to read these for when you're in the proper mood. I will definitely be reading more of Chaon's stuff, and I'll be curious to see if his novel is as dark as these stories.Recommended ForReaders who appreciate short stories dealing with unsettling emotions and dark themes such as death, loss, grief and loneliness.
GarySeverance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dan Chaon is an Ohio based writer who has published three novels and many short stories. In this collection of short stories, Mr. Chaon explores the theme of deaths of loved ones and how these events change our relationships with others and change our self-interpretations. Each story is unique but has a common factor of the death of a child, father, mother or some other person close to the characters. The deaths are either current events or are part of the personal histories of the characters. The recent or distant memories of loss haunt the characters and emerge from unconscious storage unbidden or are deliberately retrieved. The focus of the narratives involves showing the cues that bring the ghosts of the past into consciousness and how the characters deal with them.The uniqueness of each story causes the reader to become involved with the action described. The thread of death in the stories strengthens as the reader progresses through the book. Awareness develops about the thread and ideas that the stories are continuous, with secondary characters perhaps branching off from the action of earlier stories. Like the memory of a person who has experienced loss of a loved one, the reader¿s memory of loss in an early story is triggered by unexpected cues presented in a later one. Much like a person who has lost a loved one and repressed some of the memories surrounding that person, the reader must search her memory for connecting details of an earlier story. A hint of something may arise and the reader wonders is this what happened to the brother, friend, lover? The stories also trigger memories of the reader¿s own losses of people who were important to her. She may look up from the book and recollect faces, events, clothing, photos, as do the characters in the stories. The characters have to face the distinction between memories and nostalgia, the difference being that the former can be reinterpreted looking back with wisdom. The latter are fixed by the initial interpretation given of the event and cannot be reworked. Fixed interpretations offer little in the way of emotional growth that would normally occur with maturity. I went so far as to skim back through all 12 stories to look for connections much like one of the characters in a story, who looks for hidden messages in random notes. I found in some cases, my own experiences with death interfered with my memories of the fictional experiences of the characters, showing the complexities of any life review that mixes memories with nostalgia. I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Chaon¿s collection of stories. He takes the reader through a process of tension in the lack of closure in the stories, discovery in the emotional reactions of the characters and in ourselves, and a resolution of tension in bypassing nostalgia to examine true accounts of memory with the original emotional impact. A conclusion might be to ¿stay awake¿ to the memories of lost loved ones to prevent the second loss of them through fixing them like lilacs in plexiglas.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short story collections are always a hard sell to the majority of the reading community. And they don't usually sell in general, so a publisher often has to be willing to take a loss on them. But if ever a story collection had a chance at bestseller-dom, it's this one: Dan Chaon's STAY AWAKE: STORIES. Chaon has honed these twelve stories to a fine edge. And nearly every one will pull you in, hold you for its dozen or more pages, and then break your heart. Because the predominant themes in all the stories are loss, fear, grief, loneliness. No, not very happy subjects, I agree, but ones every one of us will have to deal with at some point in our lives. Like Gene, a reformed alcoholic with an abandoned and lost family in his secret past, tortured by guilt and an uneasy feeling and unexplained nightmares and waking lapses ("The Bees"). And there's Zach and Amber in the title story, and their baby born with a rare and frightening condition. Brandon is a frightened sad slacker living in his dead parents' home, unable to self-start ("Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted"). Perhaps one of the strangest characters is January, 44 and lonely, guiltily taking up once again with her brain-damaged ex-husband in "Long Delayed, Always Expected." There's also "St. Dismas" with its creepy Badlands overtones. Another slacker non-starter surfaces with O'Sullivan in "Slowly We Open Our Eyes."I won't pick a "favorite" story from Chaon's collection, because they are all so very dark. In fact, when I first got the book with its odd title, after reading the stories, the idea of falling asleep actually did become a little scary. The book projects a "there's-something-out-there" aura, a frightened, eerie feeling.I was reminded too of an equally odd musical album from about twenty-plus years ago, Hal Wilner's collection of vintage Disney songs called, yup, STAY AWAKE. Strange renditions of songs meant to be cheerful and gay rendered in quite the opposite manner by artists like Tom Waite, Ken Nordine, Suzanne Vega and others. It would make an interesting musical companion piece to Chaon's stories. I kept wondering if Chaon had ever heard this album. Hmm ... wonder if I still have that album around. Think I'll go look in the basement - with all the lights on, of course. In the meantime, I hope you will read Dan Chaon's creepily compelling, often ineffably sad stories of ordinary people presented in all their extraordinary complexities. It is definitely one of the best story collection I have read in years.Fortunately the days are beginning to get longer, so it will be a bit easier, I hope, to STAY AWAKE.
browner56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For those among us who have lost a loved one¿a parent, say, or a close friend or a child¿the grieving process is a profoundly personal experience. There is no set pattern or time frame for getting over the pain and the feeling of emptiness; indeed, perhaps the one connecting thread is the pervasive sense of abandonment and despair that those that remain must fight their way through. In `Stay Awake¿, Dan Chaon gives us 12 stories of broken people who are dealing with loss and various other traumas. That they seem to cope quite poorly is one of the themes that runs throughout the entire book. To say these stories are disturbing would be an understatement. Replete with car accidents, suicides, disfigurements, drug abuse, repressed memories and alcoholism, they capture those moments when the grieving parties hit rock bottom. There is a dream-like quality (nightmare, really) to many of these tales as if characters are caught between the real world and a surreal one that lies just beyond their grasp. The author does not offer the reader much hope, either, as none of the stories end happily. In fact, if I have a complaint about this collection it would be the sameness of the emotions that are displayed, even as the specific situations change. These are also not complete stories in the sense of having intriguing beginnings, well-defined middles and neat endings that tie everything together. Instead, the author has chosen to drop us into the middle of his protagonists¿ lives as they grieve and cope with loss as best they can. In that regard, the book is best read as a series of character studies built around a dark, unifying theme. Although I had my favorites¿`The Bees¿, `Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted¿ and `I Wake Up¿ were the best for me¿all of the stories are powerful and emotionally charged. Chaon writes in a taut and almost poetic style so that, despite its relentless nature, this is highly readable fiction. For the reader forewarned as to the content, it is a book that is well worth the effort.
faceinbook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the biggest complaints by readers, in any of my reading groups, is the way the author "ends" their story. We like our stories to have nice or tidy endings and often we have our own thoughts as to exactly how things "should" come out in the end. Dan Chaon's newest book contains stories whose endings are not tidy or very nice but are painfully real.Read through some of the reviews on this book and I agree....this is a dark collection. Chaon's talent is on full display in these pages and what he has done deserves to be applauded. He is a talented author. A writer who can transferr human pain and weakness so vividly, unto a page, is blessed with a gift. We may not like what we are seeing but we are seeing and "feeling" what is true.I liked this book, in part, because I took such a strong dislike to some of the characters and/or situations......if words alone can evoke such a response, than bravo to the one who can put those words to paper.These storied have been labeled as "horror" stories and in some repects I agree. We create our own little horrors and Chaon has the talent along with the courage to force us, through stories, to come face to face with those horrors.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Writing short stories has to be incredibly difficult, one has such a short amount of time to include everything yet keep a reader interested. Yet in most of these stories, Chaon with his wonderful writing manages to do just that. These are dark and for the most part rather grim but very readable and I enjoyed them.
berylweidenbach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A disturbing collection of short stories that draw you in to lives and situations that are very real, and because of that, frightening!!! How quickly our ordered lives can go astray... how does that happen... you will find out. I always long to know more when I read short stories, as they very seldom have resolution, especially these. Just about any one of them could have been expanded into a book! The characters fairly jump from the page they seem so real. Almost as if you might know someone exactly like that, their private thoughts suddenly available to you wether you want to know them or not, but really, who doesn't want to know some private thoughts? I found myself identifying often, and in doing so, was reassured that I am not so far off the deep end yet.... Excellent stories! (though I still do wish to know the answers to the questions they invoked....) Isn't life a lot like that????
Daniel_DiPlacido on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dan Chaon is an outstanding writer of literary fiction. I read his debut, a story collection entitled Among The Missing, when it was first published in 2002 and consider it a 5 star gem. Stay Awake, his latest collection, is typified by the beautiful prose and the well developed inner lives of characters that have become the hallmark of Mr. Chaon's work. All of the characters in these twelve stories are dealing with a loss. Several of the stories had, to a greater or lesser degree, a supernatural overtone, which I found to be too obvious and off-putting--one or two bordering on a Twilight Zone type genre. That aside, Stay Awake is a wonderful read and will satisfy the most discriminating of literary fiction readers.
bookmagic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dan Chaon is back with a collection of short stories, some will creep you out, some will make you sad, and some will leave you wondering. They are all very dark. The first story has a married man with a son who has terrifying nightmares. The father begins to think about another family he had during his wild, turbulent years that he left behind and started a new life. Another story has a married couple who were desperate for a child, their newborn was born with a second head from a parasitic twin. That one particularly creeped me out. I enjoyed these stories, though I am more a fan of novels and look forward to Chaon's next one.Just don't read these if you are looking for something uplifting
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you an upbeat ending or some form of resolution to the short stories you read, then this collection, "Stay Awake" by Dan Chaon, is definitely not for you. It is an interesting phenomenon to read a collection of short stories which can only be described as dark and despairing, and be able to say that the writing absolutely compelled me to keep going despite the sadness which was they evoked. Each story was heartrending and disturbing in some way, yet they were beautifully written. Take your chances if you are up for the ride!
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow¿Death and sadness in the heartland. Mortality is a constant presence in this collection of stories, sometimes crouching in a distant corner or looming over every perfectly framed sentence. This is a gallery of troubled souls, dealing with a parasitic baby, a brain-damaged husband, suicide, infanticide, various car wrecks, capital punishment and the forlorn parade shuffles on.Spread out, through various towns and cities, from Ohio to Nebraska, these characters struggle with loneliness, a regrettable past and isolation. Sounds like a bright Spring read, huh? Well, don¿t reach for the rope and chair quite yet. There is a dark beauty here. Gorgeous writing and an uncanny understanding of human grief and pain. Each story drew me in, sometimes reluctantly and with every precise, haunting word, made me look to the skies and appreciate the good life that I possess.
skrishna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stay Awake is a collection of dark and disturbing stories, focusing on characters that must deal with harrowing and life-changing events. Though these are just stories, they seem completely real. These characters are friends and neighbors, not just words on a page. They are universal, and thus speak to the reader. It¿s incredible that, despite the fact that Chaon doesn¿t have the canvas of an entire novel to develop his characters, he explores them fully and they seem completely realized. It¿s a testament to his writing prowess.The story that sticks out most to me is The Bees, the first in this twelve story collection. It starts out as a simple tale of a father and son, of a child who screams for no apparent reason. But it turns out there is more going on under the surface, and Gene - the father - has been keeping a dark secret from his family. This story was absolutely chilling and deliciously creepy. Chaon had me hooked from the first few words, and the quality of the story took my breath away. I don¿t understand how Chaon wove such an intricate tale of horror with so few words, yet he accomplished it marvelously. If you¿re in the mood for something dark, yet also quick, Stay Awake is the perfect book to pick up. The stories, only about 20 pages each, go quickly, yet they are so well written that they will leave readers clamoring for more. They are each twisted in their own way, focusing on characters dealing with difficult emotions due to death and loss. Chaon takes amazingly detailed and relatively normal characters and puts them into horrifying situations. The reader is thrust into the story, and it doesn¿t let you go, even after the last page is turned. I was thoroughly impressed with Chaon¿s writing abilities, and though I¿m not usually the biggest fan of story collections, I highly recommend this atmospheric read.
joecanas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My first exposure to Dan Chaon's work was his novel "Await Your Reply." After reading the first two dozen pages, I was already impressed by his talent for phrasing, pacing and character development. And as the story progressed, I willingly surrendered to the dark, complex tale and hung on until I reached the last page -- just a couple of days after I began the book. As I put it down, I thought, "Wow, this guy is GOOD." I then sought out his collection "Among the Missing," which I liked even more. After devouring those overtly minor-key stories literally overnight, I put the book down thinking, "this guy is my new favorite author."So, I was thrilled to win a review copy of Chaon's latest book, "Stay Awake," from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers giveaway. In fact, I hoarded the unread book for several weeks (sorry for my tardy review, LibraryThing!), staring at it in anticipation. And now, at last, I've read it. As with the first two books, I found the writing throughout this brief collection to be excellent. No question, Chaon is a strong writer, capable of some amazing things. I loved the inventiveness. I admired the sheer virtuosity and craft. One test of powerful writing is whether the author can evoke strong feelings in the reader. Well, on that count especially, this collection scored high with me. Reading this book took something from me. It exhausted me. It made me feel the emotions of the various characters: sorrowful, grief-stricken, abandoned. It was a "good read" in that the stories are well-written, highly engaging, thought-provoking. But it was also a bleak read. (The phrases "disturbingly beautiful" and "hauntingly beautiful" come to mind.)As other reviewers have noted, this collection contains some very dark stories. Chaon has told interviewers that he considers himself as much a writer of horror fiction as of "straightforward literary fiction" (if there is such a thing). These stories contain both supernatural and "merely" human-scale elements of horror. But the aura of darkness and loss permeating these stories must have been inspired by the events of Chaon's life, the context in which he wrote; namely, his wife Sheila's prolonged battle with cancer and eventual passing. His helplessness, loss and grief come through each of these stories -- clearly as Chaon intended -- and the cumulative effect is nothing short of devastating.