A man grows increasingly convinced the ghost of his son haunts his previous home in this fast-paced suburban gothic tale.
The debut novel by PEN/Bingham Award winner Coake (Creative Writing/U. of Nevada; stories: We’re in Trouble, 2005) opens with its hero, Mark, increasingly harassed by Connie, who owns the house where his son, Brendan, died years before in a fall that snapped his neck. Mark is eager to move on with his life, preparing to marry his fiancee, Allison, and cutting the cord with Brendan’s mother, Chloe. But Connie insists Brendan is “present” in the home, and Chloe is so bereaved she’s inclined to investigate. The plot hinges on making even the slightest possibility of a haunting seem credible, and Coake stretches out the story to sell that point, shuttling Mark between skepticism and belief. That makes for some wheel-spinning pages, and as a ghost story the novel feels restrained and low on chills. But Coake is expert at defining character: As Mark does all that waffling (and revisits his old drinking habit), he opens up to himself about the feelings of guilt and loss that have tormented him since Brendan died. And though the story is dialogue-heavy and engineered as a page-turner, Coake never lets the story move so fast that he can’t deliver an elegant, forceful observation about the ways couples (and exes) parry with each other as they struggle to get along. Our pasts have ways of worming into us if we fail to confront them, Coake argues—if ghosts aren’t actually real, they have a metaphorical power that makes them effectively real. The ghost question is definitively settled in the closing pages, but it’s the relationships between Mark and the two understandably frustrated women in his life that linger.
An overlong but potent story, balancing supernatural gloom and marital conflict.