This collection of short stories is about death, dreams, suicide, loss and losing your way, and trying to find your way back.
It is lifted by small hopeful bursts of humour. “…Their skin had a rosy, post-maternal glow, and they spoke in gently therapeutic voices as they walked around carrying their babies in expensive papooses. She, meanwhile, had the haggard eyes and quick temper of a woman who had just lived for five years with a teenager.”
In ‘Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted’, Brandon notices how his town is decaying. Through the windows of the old Beatrice Academy of Beauty, “you could see the hair dryers all piled together in a jumble, like dead spacemen. Parking meters along the block had been beheaded and were now just bare pipes sticking up out of the sidewalk.”
Jeez, no wonder he gets depressed.
Despite the themes, it does not feel heavy and oppressive. It is saved and elevated by the prose. “Even when a child’s death is imminent, the parent must forever carry the image of the child moving forward, alive, into the future.” “Conclusion simply the place where you tired of thinking.”
The stories were all different, but all of them shared similarities with others in some way. Parents dying just as the character was becoming an adult, dreams, car crashes, new starts and failures to make new starts. How many ways can we talk about death/loss/suicide/hopelessness/life not going as planned? It was as if he was writing a story to express these ideas, and then tried writing another different one to express the same, and on and on. Circling around the ideas and concepts, picking at some and transferring bits to others. I thought there must be something happening in the writer’s life that is propelling this intense mulling. Digging around on the web a bit found this link:
http://therumpus.net/2009/01/what-happened-to-sheila/ which describes the death of his wife in late 2008, from ovarian cancer. It shares the same substrate as his short stories, and in “Take This, Brother, May It Serve You Well”, one of my favourites, one of the characters also dies from the disease. The descriptions could be provided only by someone familiar with its path of destruction. Emprise Review has an interesting interview with him here http://emprisereview.com/2012/interviews/dan-chaon/
The stories were powerful, the prose over and over was was wonderful. So many instances of readerly “yes, exactly, he has captured that perfectly.”
Surfing the net also taught me that his last name is pronounced Shawn. It is not like chaos.