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“Mark Fife was being watched.” And so Christopher Coake pulls you into Mark Fife’s journey through grief and love in You Came Back. Coake’s debut novel is a suspenseful read sure to make you question your own beliefs and reactions.
“You Came Back” tells the story of Mark Fife who believes he has finally, after seven years, moved past the tragic, accidental death of his 7-year-old son, Brendan. Mark has once again found love after the terrible divorce that followed closely behind his son’s death. Just as he is working up the nerve to propose, a strange woman tracks him down. This woman now lives in Mark’s old house with her own young son and she gives Mark a disturbing piece of news. Brendan’s ghost haunts the old house and he is calling for his daddy.
Not only does Mark Fife not believe in ghosts but he doesn’t believe in an afterlife either. The strange woman’s news rips his new life apart and sends him on a questioning downward spiral. The novel follows Mark as he questions everything he has ever believed. Can Brendan still be in the house? Can he have his old life back? Can he be truly happy? And what will this do to his new love? Coake lays out Mark’s thoughts as he works through each question, daring to believe what he never thought possible.
The novel reads like a suspenseful ghost story without ever going too far into the realm of the unbelievable. The story is spent inside Mark’s head with all his thoughts, fears, and crazy notions laid out. Not only does Coake write what Mark says but he also writes what Mark wants to say. Much of the dialogue is written with Mark’s thought and then what he really says. In this way, Coake keeps the story moving and keeps you questioning right along with Mark.
Coake’s descriptions also keep you questioning right beside Mark. He uses phrases like, “He touched Chloe’s shoulder…almost a professional touch. A deacon’s, or an undertaker’s.” To most, the associations of those two positions would be miles apart. Yet here they are in the same sentence, referring to the same thing. As a reader you can’t help but question the meaning of that professional touch.
In 2007 Coake was named one of the 20 best young American novelists by Granta. He also received the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers for his collection of short stories, We’re in Trouble. In his debut novel he writes about grief and all the baggage that comes with. In many ways, You Came Back is a cautionary tale about what can happen if grief is allowed to take control. After finishing this novel you will be left questioning your own beliefs about the afterlife.
Image Courtesy of AuthorChristopherCoake