Coakes second novel honest, conversational
YOU CAME BACK. By Christopher Coake. Grand Central. 416 pages. $24.99.
Mark Fife, the protagonist of Christopher Coake’s second novel, “You Came Back,” has struggled to find a fragile balance, a place where happiness no longer seems at complete odds with acceptance.
A 30-something Midwesterner, Fife finds himself at the cusp of a new life, something he dared not contemplate during much of the seven years following the accidental death of his young son, Brendan, and divorce from Chloe, the mother of his child, college sweetheart and one true love.
Yet seven years on, Fife has proposed to his girlfriend. Allison, and has just learned that she is pregnant with his child. Everything seems to be coming together again until the current owner of his and Chloe’s old home seeks him out to share some unsettling news: Brendan’s ghost still haunts the house where he fell down the stairs — and he wants his parents.
“You Came Back” might borrow a little intensity at times from the horror genre, but Coake’s achingly honest and convincingly conversational novel has less to do with the supernatural and everything to do with the specters that haunt us all.
The ghosts of past loves, past lives and their distracting menage of what-ifs have a particularly powerful effect on Fife and Chloe, driving them both headlong into past lives that Coake explores with a painful sympathy.
The loss of a child is something that no parent truly wants to contemplate in great detail; however, Coake makes the reader confront not just the pain of loss, but also the arguably more harrowing realization that life, in all its unfairness and callousness, does in fact go on.
Lying in bed at night, reflecting on the past that has brutally intruded on his present, Fife thinks: “Happiness was what you felt when you weren’t lost anymore; when you’d spent a long time, crying out, in the loneliest and darkest of places — and then understood that the person you loved and longed for had, at long last, appeared.”
Of course, that type of happiness means widely different things to Fife and Chloe, and “You Came Back” leaves the reader guessing as to how this novel’s cast of wearied characters will ultimately find their own.
Reviewer Zach Weir, a writer based in Oxford, Ohio