Dan Chaon on Stay Awake | Interview
The author of Stay Awake talks horror.
On the phone, Dan Chaon sounds like a nice, normal guy. He apologizes upon picking up the phone, because he’s waiting for a couch to be delivered to his Cleveland home, but it’s late and may interrupt the interview.
In other words, he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who would write a story about the birth of twins conjoined at the head, with the “second twin” being only a head whose eyes and mouth seem to fully function. Or another, in which a man is haunted by his past life, to the point he believes his own psychological torture is causing night terrors in his young son and putting his family in danger.
“Kids are a big obsession in this book,” says Chaon, 48, laughing. “The whole process of parenting is built into this book, in a way, because when I was writing the book, I was raising two kids. But both of them are of college age now, and let’s just say I’ll be very interested to see what my kids think of the book.”
It isn’t so much that the stories are about children, it’s that so many of the stories are about the way children haunt their parents. There are Frankie and DJ (his son from his first marriage) in “The Bees,” and the two-headed conjoined twins in “Stay Awake.” In “Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted,” the mid-twenties Brandon works in his hometown grocery store and is supposed to be fixing up his parents’ house to sell it. As the story unfolds, we learn that his parents committed suicide in the house, leaving him a note that read “You were a wonderful son!” The house has fallen into disrepair, and both Brandon and the reader are left to wonder who did more damage to whom, child to parents or vice versa.
“There is this doomy quality to a lot of the stories, a sense of dread,” Chaon says. “It’s a tone and an effect that I’m interested in. It seems like it fit really well with post-9/11 America, when suddenly we realized, Wait, things aren’t turning out like they said they were going to.”
Though some have branded Chaon’s work as horror, it certainly resides in the more psychological wing of the scary stuff, rather than the slasher genre.
“That’s the position I find myself in now,” Chaon says. “I get into these horror genre anthologies and I’m the odd man out. But I get into these straight-up literary anthologies and I’m sort of the weirdo of the bunch. I was setting out to work on something that had connections to the ghost story, because ghost stories are about loss in some way.”
Chaon reads from Stay Awake Wednesday 15.