Friday, June 4, 2010

Sigh (story by story)

I finished Christopher Coake's brilliant collection WE'RE IN TROUBLE about twenty minutes ago and I still feel the chills rolling across my skin.  It's one of those books whose cover is full of effusive praise that the skeptic in me looks at and thinks, "Yeah, right."  But then you open the book and begin to read, and suddenly Nick Hornby saying that "you forget to breathe" when you read these stories doesn't sound so ridculous.  Coake's tales have a certain intangible voice about them that makes it feel as if he is literally whispering the words in your ears.  The subject of all of these stories is love in the face of death, which in lesser hands could quickly fall into sentimentality, but Coake writes in such spare, yet lovingly assembled prose that such concerns quickly seem ridiculous. 

And as always, I find myself horribly conflicted upon reading such a great book.  I want to celebrate the brilliance even while I want to lock myself in a room and tell myself over and over that I'll never be able to write this well.  Yeah, I suffer from a few self-confidence issues.

On to the stories:

We're In Trouble- this opening suite of three stories, sets the dark and probing tone of the book.  These short explorations into tragic circumstances aren't the best tales in the book, but I enjoyed them and realized very quickly, I was in the hands of a writer who knew exactly what he was doing. 8/10

Cross Country- a story within a story about a kid who sees something on a cross country drive with his father and then imagines all the details that occurred to create said moment.  It sounds complicated, but that's because I'm not describing it well.  It's really a very well-done story that reminds me of how there is a story behind every small gesture.  9/10

Solos- a story about a woman waiting to find out about the fate of her husband who is mountain climbing.  In the meantime, she has an almost affair with his brother and frets over the future of her son.  Coake has a knack for taking the reader deep into the interior lives of his characters, and it is the narrator's conflicts and desires that seem so familiar to us that make the story truly transcend. 9/10

In the Event- when his best friend dies, Danny is left with the staggering responsibility of caring for his friend's young child.  The story takes place on the night Danny discovers the news of his friend's death, and he choses not to wake the child.  Again, this story shines as it explores Danny's fears and doubts about taking over a job he feels ill-prepared for.  8/10

A Single Awe- this was my least favorite story, but it was still an engaging, thought-provoking read about why we love people and how sometimes, those reasons are not good enough. 7/10

Abandon- I loved this story about Brad and Mel, two people on the brink, who find love and then disaster in a Michigan snowstorm.  Very affecting and real.  10/10

All Through the House- this is the story that gave me chills.  I won't say much more than it centers around a sheriff and his best friend who snapped one night, murdering his whole family and then himself.  It's perfect in every way, and it lingers long after you close the book.  10/10

Overall- 9/10

Read this now.

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