Christopher Coake’s “You Came Back”

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Books I Like, Books I'm Reading
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Just finished Christopher Coake‘s You Came Back – a book I didn’t want to read. There are almost no subjects I avoid reading about. If an author presents the material in a unique and compelling way, I can be curious about almost any subject. That is, unless it’s the loss of a child. As a father, this is the one subject you really never want to imagine, not through your own eyes, those of someone who’s lost a child, or those of a fictional character. Coake’s book is fiction but still I was wary.

I might not have picked up the book if I hadn’t already read Coake’s debut story collection – We’re in Trouble: Stories – and liked it so much. I’d also heard him read and met him when he interviewed for a position in the program where I was a graduate student. I liked him and his stories. And Coake knows a thing or two about grief, so I trusted him to treat the subject carefully.

I wasn’t disappointed. Using a very close third person, he planted me firmly in his protagonist’s shoes and, from the first pages, I was in for the duration. The story is driven by our compassion for the protagonist and his desire, like ours, to know, to understand what we don’t, including himself and his handling of his son’s tragic loss.

I grew up reading ghost stories (from Poe and Lovecraft to the wonderful (true) ghost stories of the Carolinas, particularly those set in the Outer Banks, to the ghost stories (the best of their work) of Stephen King and Peter Straub). I listened to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater on my transistor in bed at night (at 10:00 and long after I was supposed to be asleep) and, when I first tried to write, drafted my own (highly derivative) ghost stories. These stories stirred my imagination, left me both wondering at the possibilities and shrinking from them at the same time–always a skeptic. And Coake takes cues from this wonderful genre,but without exploiting it. His book is haunted, no question.

Coake works from real life and haunts his book with the emotional, spiritual and intellectual challenges there: loss, doubt, guilt, survival, faith/belief, and reconciliation. He employs a ghost story to get at these emotional issues in a compelling way.

I don’t want to say more. I read the book in two days and was glad for it. The book lingers in my (unsettled) heart and mind, and the more I think about it, the more I applaud what Coake has done so honestly–an unblinking look at the horrors of grief and survival.

  1. […] website Some other reviews of You Came Back: Little Words; Chasing Bawa; Dana Stevens for Slate; Christopher Bundy. Share this:SharePrintTwitterFacebookStumbleUponRedditEmailLinkedInTumblrPinterestLike this:LikeBe […]

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