Friday, April 6, 2012

Stay Awake - Dan Chaon (Audio)

I read a number of reviews of this book from bloggers I trust.  Jenners described this collection of short stories as "unsettling" and "atmospheric", declaring all the characters haunted.  She even suggested that Chaon was channeling his inner Steven King.  Marie described the book as edgy and claims that you won't need any caffeine to stay awake while reading it. Swapna recommends it if you want something dark but quick.  These are all astute descriptions.  I would agree with all of those comments.

I am all about disturbing stories that creep into the safe places in your mind.  I was thrilled that my library had this on audio.  However, I'm not sure everything worked as well for me as it did everyone else.  Let's discuss.

There are twelve stories here, unrelated to one another (even though I experienced moments of dejavu).  Every character is suffering mentally and sometimes physically from the losses and pain they have endured in their lives.  None of them are very sympathetic, but strangely real, for all the surreal plots involved.    

There are also elements of supernatural, and sometimes it is hard to tell when reality ends and the bizarro begins.  Sometimes I questioned whether my senses were on overdrive and I was imagining things.  It was all very dreamlike.  Nightmare-like.

The stories seemed nearly drug-induced:  A young man physically and mentally deteriorates while he lives in a rotting house where his parents committed suicide.  A man and his new family are haunted by a son he abandoned years ago.  A couple who, because of fertility treatments, have given birth to a two-headed baby, and must consider the surgical removal of the parasitic head.  A woman who goes through a mid-life crisis by rekindling a sexual relationship with her brain-damaged ex-husband. 

There were a good number of stories that I just didn't get.  I'd be going along, following the story, then at the end Chaon would pull the rug out from under me.  I was left completely confused about what just happened.  Was this because I was listening to the audio and missed the hints and nuances?  Perhaps.  I have DNF'd more than one collection of short stories on audio for that reason.

I did love the atmosphere though.  Very sinister and spooky, even if there was nothing spooky happening.

A few words about the audio production:  Despite the fact that I think listening to these stories added confusion to my experience, I did enjoy the narrator.  Kirby Heyborne has narrated just about all genres, and even has narrated Stephen King's "The Long Walk".  

3 out of 5 stars       



bermudaonion said...

The last short story collection I read was dark, but I don't think it was as dark as this one! If I try this one, I'll stick to print.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm glad I don't read short stories! :--)

Zibilee said...

I also got this on on audio, and haven't started it yet. It does sound really weird, and oddly surreal. I am not sure if I am going to like this one, or if it's going to scare the pants off of me!

Jenny said...

Oh this sounds so strange! I don't think I'd like it, honestly, but I think I have a novel by him on my shelf somewhere that I heard was really good!

Beth F said...

I've never really like short stories on audio. I think that's because I rarely read short story collections straight through. I like a break between stories so I can have a moment (at least a few hours, anyway) to absorb the one before starting the next.

This sounds too spooky for me.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

First time I have heard of this one, sounds like it is possibly better in print. I have had audio like that.

Jenners said...

I would definitely agree with you that there were stories where I would get to the end and think "Did I miss something here?" But the strangeness factor just got me … it was so weird and atomospheric and I love that in a short story. To be honest, I don't know if I could have handled any of these in long form. It was like opening a door into someone's nightmare and then shutting it after you've seen enough. Sorry it didn't work better for you.