One Read book talk provides informal venue to discuss themes, opinions

By SARAH TUCKER

neighborhoods@columbiamissourian.com

Identity. It’s what everyone is talking about. Well, if you’re reading Dan Chaon’s novel “Await Your Reply” for One Read, that is.

And if you are participating in One Read, then you might be interested in how and why Chaon wrote his novel, whether or not Hayden was really schizophrenic and, the big question, what happens to Ryan, Lucy and Hayden when the book ends.

Or, you may not have liked the book at all.

At the One Read book talk with Mayor Bob McDavid and his wife on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 18 readers discussed these concerns and more.

McDavid began the discussion with the issue of identity and how Chaon’s own self may be reflected in the novel.

“A lot of writers have strong auto-biographical elements to their books,” McDavid said.

Lucy, Miles and Ryan, the three “most interesting” characters to McDavid, seem to lack concrete identities.

“None of these three characters have family as a grounding,” McDavid said. “Are these three people a composite of Dan Chaon?”

The conversation then turned to Hayden’s character being portrayed as mentally ill. Maria Thomas, a retired psychologist, offered her insight.

“Hayden is not schizophrenic. He has borderline personality disorder — he has no boundaries; he’s like a chameleon,” Thomas said.

Readers also speculated about the fates of each character. The self-described optimists in the group believed the characters lived on with new identities. Others weren’t so sure.

Most readers present at the discussion enjoyed the book. A few didn’t like the book because of the violent beginning, and a few others, including McDavid, just weren’t convinced.

“I’m pretty tough on contemporary fiction,” McDavid said. “You’ve got to sell me; you’ve got to convince me these characters are real.”

Regardless of whether they enjoyed Chaon’s novel or even believed it, everyone seemed to enjoy talking about the book and themes. Thomas summed up “Await Your Reply” perfectly when she described her take on the novel:

“The whole book is about whenever you face something you don’t want to … jump ship. Get a new ID.”

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