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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-05-14
- Reviewer: Staff
In his suspenseful but unremarkable debut novel (after the story collection We're In Trouble Now), Coake explores how a tragic past can threaten a happy future. Years after the accidental death of his seven-year-old son, Brendan, and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage, Mark Fife is finally ready to move on with his life. On a snowy morning, he even considers proposing to his girlfriend, Allison, but he gets spooked by a middle-aged woman who seems to be following him. That woman, Connie Pelham, bought his old house, and her son says he can't sleep because Brendan's ghost is calling out for his dad. Mark doesn't believe in ghosts but the idea of his dead son needing help unnerves him. He struggles to find a way to tell his ex-wife Chloe about Connie's claims, while grappling with his own grief, regret, and frustration. Meanwhile Chloe's maternal love and internal conflicts form a maelstrom that tempts Mark to abandon his and Allison's dreams of a shared future. Allison has a powerful secret of her own, but as Chloe and Brendan draw Mark back into the past he becomes deaf to the pleas of those who need him most in the present. In competent prose, Coake teases out the ways that people can be faithful—not only to spouses, but to the past, the future, and themselves. (June)
Grief, love and ghosts
Ghost stories, more than most other tales, are at heart love stories. At their core is the fact that someone, on this side or the other, just flat out refuses to let go.
In You Came Back, the compelling debut novel by award-winning writer Christopher Coake, there is no shortage of love. There is the love Mark Fife has for his fiance, Allison. There is his stubborn, somewhat obsessive love for his ex-wife, Chloe, the college sweetheart who left him. And there is the mountain of love he and Chloe both shoulder for their young son, Brendan, whose death in terrifyingly mundane circumstances will send chills down the spine of every parent.
It is seven years after Brendan’s death. Mark is 38, no longer drinks and is on the verge of conquering his misgivings and proposing to Allison. Despite occasional nightmares and the feelings for Chloe he sometimes has to push away, he is sure that he will be happy again.
Then he is paid a visit by the woman who lives in the house where he, Chloe and Brendan lived together, and where Brendan died. She tells him that her fourth-grade son has seen Brendan’s ghost, and that the ghost has been calling for his daddy. Mark initially wants nothing to do with the woman. But as the boy’s story evolves into something more believable, both he and Chloe are drawn in, and toward each other. For Mark, it is heartbreakingly tantalizing: Can he get it back? Have Chloe, the love of his life, and Brendan, whose death he still feels responsible for?
Coake, named by Granta in 2007 as one of the 20 best young American novelists, received the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers for his collection of short stories, We’re in Trouble. His first novel is a wrenching journey through the human heart. You Came Back isn’t a book to start the night before a workday. It reads like a suspense novel and will keep you turning pages longer than is good for you. Afterward, it will leave you lying in bed in the dark, contemplating its surfeit of pain and beauty.