Second Chance Coma: Coast Road

Cover image for Coast Road by Barbara Delinsky.

Coast Road (1998), by Barbara Delinsky, was published by Simon and Schuster. Though not marketed as a romance, it’s essentially a second chance romance story.

Jack and Rachel met in college. He was studying architecture and working as a TA in an art course, she came from a wealthy family and was studying art. His pursuit of succe$$ meant little time for his growing family, and she eventually left him. Six years later, a car accident leaves her in a coma, and he steps in to look after their daughters and assist with her care.

The bulk of the story is two weeks of the heroine in a coma, while the hero becomes acquainted with his children and reflects on his life and choices. Having the heroine in a coma deprives her of any agency in the story, but this is partly addressed by having her friends and her paintings speak for her. The plot is enriched with subplots and characters that illustrate different challenges of women’s lives. This helps balance the focus on the hero. The younger daughter’s cat is dying, the older daughter is looking forward to a prom with a more “mature” date and group than her usual friends, a friend of Rachel’s survived breast cancer but is having trouble dating with reconstructed breasts, and so on.

The characters, pacing, weaving of plot threads, and presentation of flashbacks are well handled, making for an enticing read. I raced through the 447 pages in two sittings. However, three issues troubled me.

First, at the risk of being terribly petty, there’s a minor descriptive error. An early sign of the marriage failing involved Rachel’s first car, an old Volkswagen Beetle. As an example of its poor condition, it apparently needs a new radiator. My parents had a couple of Beetles, and they are air-cooled – no radiator. I’m surprised no one caught this in editing.

Second, while there are many signs that their relationship has mutual benefits, one of them is that Rachel’s passion, wildlife paintings, is better realized with Jack’s help. She does not contribute directly to his passion. There’s nothing inherently wrong with power and benefits asymmetry in aspects of a relationship – that’s probably the norm – but here it made me uneasy.

Finally, this story reminds us of the importance of family and friends over material gain. Such reminders are vital in our consumer society. However, as in many stories of this type, true and fictional, the person realizing there are things more important than money has already made lots of money. This tends to justify past obnoxiousness, and reminds us that choosing to spend more time with your family is a privilege of wealth.

While I enjoyed the story, I could not help thinking it would have been a rather different story if Jack’s time away from his office meant he’d have no way to pay his bills at the end of the month, or if the older daughter was worried about her part-time job instead of her prom. Taking financial issues out of the story allows more focus on the relationship, but reduces the realism.