From his forthcoming collection Stay Awake, Ballantine – February, 2012.
I remember reading Chaon’s collection Among the Missing on the train to and from work. I got so involved I would often miss my stop. Over the years Chaon wrote two more novels, which are highly literate and wildly entertaining. Await Your Reply is possibly one of the best literary thrillers to come along in some time. I don’t care what happens to the “book”, and if everything goes electronic, we will still have Dan Chaon bringing us great stories, wonderful novels, and brilliant moments that are nothing short of breathtaking.
“The Bees” is the first story from his new collection, Stay Awake. Our hero is a dry drunk, which means he still loves to drink (but does not actually drink, if that makes sense – he has never gotten over booze) and admires the horrors of being sober. Gene’s first family is dead, or has somehow deserted him, Gene works for UPS and has a second family that he is trying to make work.
Any father who reads this will know what it’s like to see yourself with your son, as an out-of-body experience. Fathers are constantly haunted and entertained by past moments with their sons, and Chaon knows just how to deliver these memories.
Gene constantly remembers how he was, and can not put a finger on who he is now. He knows he was a bad angry drunk, and desperately does not want to be that again. His wife loathes the man who is crumbling in front of her, and suddenly, through countless hallucinations, we watch Gene slowly lose his mind. But he says he’s fine. Gene’s past life is a mystery to his current wife, but it drags him down, slowly over the course of the story.
It is hard to say what happens next, I’m not sure myself. This story is best viewed from all sides, repeatedly. Show this story your respect, and read it twice.