Chaon’s stories of isolation haunting

STAY AWAKE: Stories. By Dan Chaon. Ballantine. 362 pages. $25.

A father fretting about a young son’s night terrors gradually is haunted by his own terrors from an alcohol-fueled past.

Another man, marooned as a single parent since his wife’s tragic death, decodes meaning out of the scribbled scraps of paper and debris left behind by strangers.

Yet another young man, raised by foster parents after his mother went to jail, experiences a creeping and possibly sinister disassociation from reality after speaking with one of his sisters.

These are the sort of damaged and unmoored characters of “Stay Awake,” the latest short-story collection from Dan Chaon.

An understated master of the form whose occasionally devastating debut story collection, “Among the Missing,” was a National Book Award finalist in 2001, Chaon has returned to the format with more quietly haunting stories of isolation and disconnection that stick with you like faded images from a disturbing dream.

Thoughts of nightmares and mysterious shapes at the corner of your eye come naturally in considering this batch of stories, which often flirt with horror and the supernatural.

Oddly, it’s only when Chaon revisits the unsavory types that populated his 2009 novel, “Await Your Reply,” that the book fails to connect.

Far more successful is Chaon’s venture into cloudier, more unconventional waters with the book’s closing story, “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily White Hands.” The author unfurls a story with nightmarish details of three sisters who narrowly escape a young, violent death and their tortured father, who’s left to a bleak yet well-earned isolation.

Reviewer Chris Barton, a writer for The Los Angeles Times