Thursday, March 14, 2013
Come In and Cover Me by Gin Phillips
Come In and Cover Me has most certainly cemented Gin Phillips as one of my favorite authors. While it might not quite equal her debut effort, The Well and the Mine, which would be incredibly hard to equal, Come In and Cover Me has Phillips' talent on full display.
First of all, the setting is stunning. I have to admit that I don't read many books set in the American Southwest, and Come In and Cover Me practically has me wanting to go pay it a visit. Phillips' descriptions of both the unexpectedly lush canyon and the desert terrain where they are digging are absolutely stellar. It's not often that I'm so captivated by a place in fiction that I wouldn't mind spending the day digging for bones and pottery in the hot desert wind. The days and nights Ren spends at the ranch digging for, what is for them, buried treasure and discovering a romance blooming between herself and the other archaeologist on site, Silas, practically glow with the kind of surreality I associate with good memories.
Next up are the characters, each of which is carefully crafted. Ren is a tightly wrapped package that spends the entire book being unwrapped. One moment she is prickly and closed off, the next she is alive with passion, and still the next, she is desperate for love. She's as often unlikeable as she is loveable and sympathetic. In other words, she's entirely realistic. Silas is Ren's near opposite, an open book eager to discover Ren's past by sharing his own. When it comes to work, she's driven by people, and he's driven by data, and their mostly friendly arguments and testing of each other is pitch perfect. Their chemistry is instant, but their relationship has a slow build that satisfies. Both of the main characters are great, and Phillips gives them a strong supporting cast, too. Ed, a retired government employee who took on archaeology later in life, has a straight-faced sense of humor that entertains, and Paul, the young wanna-be archaeologist is both earnest and awkward alongside the rest, and creates a natural avenue for answering some readers' questions about archaeology. The characters' interactions are so natural that you can't help wanting to pull up a chair to their campfire to enjoy their company awhile.
Finally, Phillips reveals herself to be gifted at weaving many stories into one. The way the book unfolds slowly unpacking Ren's stored-up grief while examining the scars and struggles it leaves her facing in the present all while opening up a window on the life of Ren's artist is downright artful. The shifts in the story are never jarring, and while the talking to ghosts is a little odd at first, Ren's interactions with them reveal her passions and the lessons she has yet to learn. The way Phillips peels off layer after layer to get at the heart of Ren's story reminds me of another of my favorite authors, Maggie O'Farrell.
Come In and Cover Me is a well-crafted narrative, seasoned with history and magical realism, that explores one memorable character's journey out of grief and into learning to love again.
I can't wait to see what Gin Phillips comes up with next!
(Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.)