Today I came across Dan Chaon’s story “I Wake Up” at Burrow Press Review. The story’s narrator, a 25-year-old man who grew up in foster care, reconnects with his biological sister over the phone. The two experienced a traumatic childhood together, and the narrator struggles to remember the details.
I took a master class in fiction with Chaon while I was in the M.F.A. program at Indiana University. I hadn’t read his work before meeting him, but once I did, I was captivated by the clarity of his prose, as well as his fascination with the grotesque. The grotesque in Chaon’s fiction is presented in passing. One seldom looks at it head on. And this technique creates an eeriness that stays with the reader after the story is over. Here’s an excerpt from “I Wake Up,” but you can read the whole story on the Burrow Press Review page:
The day I lost my finger was something like that. One minute I was on the ladder, three stories up, painting along the frame of an old round window near the peak of the house; the next minute a swimmy feeling trickled up my spine and into my brain. The window was empty and then the face of a woman floated up like a transparent reflection on the surface of water, moving toward me, pressing up against the glass, a face like someone who had loved me once, leaning over my bed at night to kiss my hair. I don’t even remember falling, though I recall the feeling as my ring caught against a nail, the finger separating from my body, not so much pain as a kind of gasp. I hit the ground and the wind knocked out of me.