This book begins with “We’re in Trouble,” a suite of three stories that introduces its common theme: love darkening and persevering as it is tried by the cold fact of death. And in the vivid stories that follow, as Coake’s unforgettable characters experience love staring at the face of death, it elicits either the best or the worst in them. From a wife waiting for news of her husband’s latest death-defying climb to a sheriff thrown into turmoil after his close friend enacts a horrifying murder-suicide, Coake makes us feel the truth of his imperiled characters’ lives and transforms it into cathartic art.
With the complexity, depth, and narrative drive of a novel, this extraordinary debut collection is at once suspenseful, empathic, and almost unbearably moving.
PRAISE FOR WE’RE IN TROUBLE
“Sometimes when you’re reading these stories, you forget to breathe . . . They’re beautifully written, and they have bottom, but they’re never dull and they all contain striking and dramatic narrative ideas.”
—Nick Hornby, author of A Long Way Down, in The Believer
In his striking debut collection, Coake considers how character is revealed under pressure. The title story is a stunner, a series of three vignettes in which a young man recalls a tragic accident, two lovers witness a death and a married couple grapple with the husband’s terminal cancer. A misfit couple breaks into an Upper Peninsula cabin, but find themselves trapped in a blizzard in “Abandon.” In “Cross Country,” a man estranged from his wife takes their young son on a road trip; several shifts in point of view—from father, to son, to an outside observer—throw the dynamics of their relationship into question and blur the lines between love and menace. The story concludes with an ambiguous gesture made with protective intent: “He tightens his grip on the wheel, and concentrates instead on what he knows: the flat horizon stretched out ahead. The soft warmth of the boy’s neck. His hand resting on it. The way his fingers curl, to fit its shape.” “A Single Awe” introduces Dana, a married woman tormented by adulterous thoughts. Her husband is a good but dull man, and the selfless act of heroism that won her love also revealed her own limitations. With unadorned but dramatic, economical prose, Coake explores the human capacity for altruism and cowardice in these high-stakes tales.
In these seven harrowing short stories, the characters often face serious physical danger, from nearly being engulfed in a fiery auto wreck to succumbing to the cold while snowbound in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Spurred by these extreme situations, the characters experience deep emotional insights, although the painful truths they learn about themselves can be discomfiting. The scenarios depicted are dramatic and suspenseful, which adds immeasurably to the stories’ readability. In “All through the House,” for example, one of the most affecting stories in the collection, a sheriff in rural Indiana must escort a best-selling true-crime writer as she seeks information about a notorious murder-suicide. A house in the woods is the site of the Christmas Eve massacre, in which an enraged husband killed his entire family and then himself. He was the sheriff’s best friend from childhood. As the sheriff grimly stonewalls the writer and her incessant probing, the scenes shift to the night of the murders and then further back, to childhood. Gripping reading from a talented newcomer.
—Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
“Uncanny, clear-eyed . . . [Coake] is wildly engaging as he explores one theme–love in the face of harrowing death (or near-death)–from seemingly every angle. A-.”