Dan Chaon tops the list of new authors I've started reading in the last decade. His previous novel, Ill Will, is one of the best suspense novels I've ever read. What am I saying? It is the best.

Chaon isn't the kind of writer who cranks out a novel a year. Or several a year, the way some indie writers do. He is a careful writer who spends years perfecting his craft. I'd compare him to Peter Straub, or even John Irving.

Literary Horror? Sure, I'll go along with that. If literary means better and more challenging writing, hell yes.

This new novel is a departure for Dan Chaon. Sort of. His work is characterized by themes of blurred identity. Sleep Walk shares that much with his previous work.

Sleep Walk could be considered Science Fiction. It takes place in a disquieting future. Society appears to be in the process of crumbling, but there are still eyes everywhere. Cameras, drones, artificial intelligences abound. A man with numerous aliases travels the country doing illegal scut work for nameless parties. He's under the radar and off the grid. When his security is breached by a young woman who claims to be his daughter, the man's life goes awry. Way, way awry.

Is it really his daughter? Or maybe a bot? Are multiple parties talking with him through various electronic channels?

His anxiety increases as he uncovers conspiracies and disquieting revelations about his past and his own identity. He's on the run, trying to establish a real family connection, but is more likely to be racing toward his own doom.

At first Sleep Walk reminded me of a whacked-out, drug-fueled Barry Gifford dream noir story. As I read on it felt like I was reading a Michael Marshall paranoid suspense thriller on meth. It's better than either of these writers have published.

Sleep Walk is frightening in its depiction of our society in irreversible entropy. Technology is destroying us. The world we have created for ourselves has become unsustainable. Everyone is angry, everyone wants someone to blame. Human life is nearly worthless.

I don't think I liked Sleep Walk quite as much as Ill Will, but it's still a near-masterpiece. It's scary, it's funny, and it made my heart ache. It also, thankfully, provides a ray of hope in its finale.

Sleep Walk will certainly be on the short list of the best books I read in 2022.

Written by Mark Sieber

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