Coake tells the story of Mark Fife, a man who survived unspeakable grief only to rediscover it years later when the owner of his old house tells him it is being haunted by his dead child. Mark is an intellectual and not one to believe in ghosts, but his beliefs are called into question when his ex-wife with whom he had the ghost-child accepts the return of her lost son as real.
The dead child serves as the book's antagonist; his reappearance, whether real or imagined, leads to Mark's undoing. By the middle of the book, it's hard not to resent the kid as well as his father. Mark's rose-colored take on his former life as husband and father leaves him blind to any goodness in the world he's created in the years post-death.
Coake's characters, especially Mark, are almost too realistically flawed. It's difficult to want to read about a main character who relentlessly hurts those who love him, but the plot is strong enough to carry you through till the end. The creepier sections of the book are tastefully done, so you don't feel like you're reading a Goosebumps novel; some passages might make a few hairs stand on end.
In the end, You Came Back is an intriguing page-turner that would translate well to the big screen. Indianapolis natives will recognize an accurately rendered Butler University in a few scenes, but most of the story takes place in Ohio. This is the first full-length novel by Coake, a native Hoosier who received his MFA in fiction from Ohio State University. He also has an award-winning collection of short stories called We're In Trouble, and he comes endorsed by Nick Hornby, the author of High Fidelity and Fever Pitch. —Emma Faesi
[A+E] Sports + Recreation, Written + Spoken Word