A teenage boy finally gets to know his absentee father, but not until after the man has fallen into a coma.
The story opens as Henri Skinner, a former war reporter, jumps into the Thames to save a young girl from drowning. After Henri labors back onto shore with the girl and releases her, he stumbles into oncoming traffic and sustains serious injuries. Henri’s son, Sam, is surprised and devastated to learn that at the time of the accident, Henri had been en route to a father-son event at Sam’s school. With a stellar IQ and a membership card to Mensa, Sam is hardly a typical kid. He’s also a synesthete, meaning his senses overlap in ways that allow him to perceive information through intense interconnected sensory experiences. Without informing his mother, Sam begins visiting Henri in the hospital daily, hoping to draw his father out of the coma he has fallen into. Sam grows acquainted with a slew of characters from the hospital, including a young girl named Maddie, who is also comatose, and Eddie Tomlin, the only woman who ever stole his father’s heart. As Sam’s visits continue, Henri’s prognosis looks increasingly bleak. Yet somehow, Sam feels himself bonding with his father in new and meaningful ways. Told from the alternating perspectives of Sam, Henri, and Eddie, the story contains many flashbacks, memories, and dream sequences as well as detailed tracking of Henri’s physical progress. Translated from George's (The Little French Bistro, 2017, etc.) original German, the narrative moves at a gentle pace, often mimicking the repetitiveness that is borne of repeated visits to a sick room. The author uses Henri’s evolving mental state to explore possible states of existence and a shifting continuum of consciousness that occupies the spectrum between life and death. Although the story seems to stall at points, it raises interesting existential questions about the purpose and definition of life. Through the challenges and losses that each character endures, the author conducts an effective exploration of connections that transcend physical boundaries.
A slow-moving but poignant story about longing, nostalgia, and the pain of missed opportunities.