While the title of Dan Chaon's new book Stay Awake alludes to a lullaby from the film Mary Poppins, the stories inside will never be remade by Disney. His tales of two-headed babies, missing fingers and a general aura of dread has gained the author a wide, if sometimes fanatical, following.
"Having a national reputation for writing short stories is not like being a Kardashian," he laughs. "I've somehow become the guy you can tell your weird story to. I've been getting emails from a guy who says he is being followed by Bigfoot."
The collection of short stories follows the critical successes of Chaon's novels Await Your Reply and You Remind Me of Me. The 47-year-old Cleveland Heights author gained notoriety as a finalist for the National Book Award with the short-story collection Among the Missing in 2001. His new stories were produced in the ensuing decade, many of them one or two paragraphs at a time.
"Short stories are slices of life — a moment or a glimpse of something that almost always involves the transformation of a character," he says. "This book is about the way in which we can escape or not escape, what you can transform and what you are stuck with."
The irony of Stay Awake is not lost on Chaon, who sleeps about five hours each night. He hesitates to describe himself as a fatalist but adds, "You wonder if there is a point where someone has screwed up their life permanently."