The theme of We're in Trouble is the stunning finality of death, the one inarguable truth. Death in all its forms - through carelessness, accident, or purpose when the present is no longer an option - is always irrevocable. Those left behind struggle to make peace with the aftermath of such devastation.
In his stories, Christopher Coake defines the aftermath of death, piercing the ordinary with the incisive blade of nonjudgmental truth to reveal those caught in the circumstances of their lives and left vulnerable by fate. Set in the Midwest, snow is a common factor, the weight of it, the cold, the sharp etching of emotions an acknowledgement of extremes. These are simple stories of complicated people confronted by their choices and their consequences.
Each story presents a unique situation where death plays a central role. In "Cross Country," a boy innocently steps into manhood. Traveling with a man who may or may not be his father, the boy is tentative and wary as they drive from Illinois to Colorado in a rattling truck. There are no answers, only questions - and the knowledge that this boy's life has altered course. In "Solos", a famous mountain climber's wife endures a familiar agony, waiting to learn her husband's fate in his quest of the mountain, knowing she has made a terrible bargain by loving this man, torn between love and rage.
Coake examines the subtleties of human nature, the shaded emotions exposed by the response to tragedy. One by one, each story isolates a moment of clarity, a peek into this universe so enormously complicated yet shockingly simple. In "In the Event," a single young man is faced with raising the son of his best friends killed in a car accident, his life choices truncated without warning, grieving for the loss of the familiar but facing the challenge of the future.
There are more such tangible dilemmas: a wife whose most intimate memory of her husband is his escape from immolation while dragging a woman from a burning car; two young adults trapped in a deadly snowstorm, one of them long-resigned to death and familiar with its burden; and a sheriff's memories of a murdered family years after the event, unable to release his thoughts and lay the family to rest, especially his intimate knowledge of the people, his own involvement.
It is obvious that this author is intimate with grief in all its morbidity but touched with acceptance and a faint light of hope that finally surfaces after the brutal finality of a black night of the soul - the alter-ego of bright days, laughter and the joy of devotion to another human being. These stories are emotionally wrenching yet impossible to resist, Coake's talent palpable. He reaches into the human heart with both hands, sure as a surgeon, yet incredibly gentle with these fragile moments. To read We Are in Trouble is to be changed, the world illuminated.