Grief, love and ghosts
BookPage Fiction Top Pick, June 2012
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 fiancée, 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.
Read about the wrenching personal story behind You Came Back.