I love that Dan Chaon takes advantage of a dimension of books that’s so simple but rarely gets taken advantage of: unlike a film, you cannot see the characters in a book. Some of the characters identities in AYR come into question and you get the sense that if you could only see them with your naked eye then this wouldn’t be an issue. An aspect that could make filming the book somewhat complicated:
(This is the best book trailer I’ve ever seen btw.)
Chaon puts his characters in the dusty flat plains of the midwest, the desolate northern territories, the hidden cabins of Michigan. He cuts up the isolated locals with brief moments in Las Vegas and the Ivory Coast. But for the most part he uses these lonely backdrops, ones that are rarely shown so honestly, not as places that industry has left unsullied, bastions of the real America, but as what they are: places where people go to disappear.
AYR is one of those books where it’s all about the third act. The first 2/3rds exist solely to setup the final 100 pages, and it’s evident when you’re reading it that these long ruminative chapters of characters hemming and hawing about the decisions they’ve made will eventually pay off if you just keep reading. But Chaon makes it frustrating sometimes as he’s so stingy with the clues, with the revelations, with the breadcrumbs. He makes you starve for information. Which can be a risky move. If you’re starving you’re either going keep reading or you’re going to go to McDonalds.
One thing I gotta mention though is his style. Chaon’s goes for simple and direct, which is great and I applaud him for that. But what feels simple and elegant at first gets tiresome a couple hundred pages in. The adverbs were what killed it for me. A few here and there are excusable, inevitable at some point. But used too often adverbs just read like lazy writing to me. Saying a character sighed wearily, or gestured nonchalantly, or looked blankly into the distance doesn’t really illustrate much for me. It makes one word do all the heavy lifting instead of dispersing it over an entire sentence. That’s not to say Chaon is a hacky writer. Far from it. There’s moments of true style in this book but they’re lopsided by the unnatural sound that adverbs make in my head.
While it did leave a bit to be desired in the language department, it had been a long time since I’d read a story as tightly crafted and intricately thought out as this. Something strangely satisfying in putting your trust in an author and having it pay off so well in the end. Thanks Dan.