Come In And Cover Me

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Published by: Riverhead Trade
Release Date: December 31, 2012
Pages: 352
ISBN13: 978-1594486487



A specialist in prehistoric ceramics, Ren Taylor launched her archaeological career with the unearthing of a stunning set of bowls in southern New Mexico. The bowls seem to belong to one remarkable 12th-century artist, and Ren is convinced they hold the secret to understanding a woman who died a thousand years earlier. Now in 2009, archaeologist Silas Cooper invites Ren to the remote Cañada Rosa, where he’s discovered more evidence of her artist.

Ren has an unusual connection to the dead, a connection that’s revealed during her stay in this lush canyon disconnected from the outside world. When she was twelve years old, her brother was killed in a car accident. Yet he did not vanish completely. Ever since then, he has been a not-quite-concrete presence, inserting himself into the quiet, still moments of the day, nothing more than the snatch of a song or a silhouette in the moonlight.

Ren is someone who lives with her ghosts. And now, at the canyon, she starts to see her artist, a young woman with dark eyes and strong hands, shaping bowls and tending fires before she disappears into the wind. She sees a woman in a macaw-feather skirt walking barefoot through the sand. The ghosts are holding out clues, and Ren is tempted to immerse herself entirely in their past. But then there is Silas, a man who has reached Ren in a way no one has managed since her brother died. Ultimately Ren begins to suspect that she must choose the ghosts or Silas, the past or the present.

Ren’s story explores the ways we connect to each other and the ways we keep each other at a distance. The novel revolves around our bonds to those we’ve loved and lost, the bonds of family, and the bonds we have with those who have come before us.

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Why this Book?

I’ve always loved archaeology. I didn’t know much about it, but I loved the idea of recreating the past from concrete bits and pieces left behind. Archaeologists seemed like fertile ground for fiction, these people focused on reconstructing the past in such a concrete way. Then several years ago, I had a phone call from my best friend, whose boyfriend died back in college. She’d found a mixed tape he’d made her in high school, the kind with handwritten titles on  the cassette case that used to popular when I was in high school. Somewhere in that conversation she said, “I can’t believe a piece of plastic can last longer than a human being.”

That line was the beginning of Ren. I loved the idea of this amazing, brilliant woman, charming and funny, who was totally gutted by an early loss. A woman who had never gotten over that loss—hadn’t really been allowed to process it—and was left perpetually trying to bring back the past, trying to hold on to her life as it had been before the tragedy. With that somewhat shadowy outline, I had a personal and emotional anchor for the story—a woman trying to reconnect to the present and the future, trying to open herself up to life and love as it could be. I saw her sitting in the hot sand, wanting the feel of the past—the heat and the dust and the itch of it all. There was this great physicality to how she thought about ancient history.

But I didn’t have a sense of place yet. I didn’t know how archaeology fit in. Then two things happened: First, I visited the Peabody Museum in Boston, and I stumbled on a Mimbres exhibit. The beauty of it was astonishing. I loved the idea of a people unremarkable in any way except for one stunning exception—their art. But mostly it wasn’t a very logical process. I just couldn’t forget the Mimbres images, couldn’t get them out of my head. I started doing some research. And then I met Karl Laumbach, an archaeologist involved with an Earthwatch expedition in New Mexico. He talked about frontiers and the intersection points of cultures and a thousand other things. He really helped me to flesh out a whole world in prehistoric New Mexico, and he brought Lynay and Non’s world to life. When I came back from my first dig with Karl, I had a new sense of the texture and the beauty of both Lynay and Ren’s lives. And I sat down to write.

Reading Guide

  1. While Silas and many others approach archaeology from a broad cultural perspective, Ren’s approach focuses on the individual personal lives of her subjects. How does her history inform her practice of archaeology? What is the benefit of pursuing individuals?
  2. Think about the ghosts in Come In and Cover Me. Are the ghosts that Ren sees in Cañada Rosa of a different sort than Scott’s ghost? Why or why not? Do they have different purposes in appearing to Ren? Why or why not? What do they want from—or for—her?
  3. Think about how grief affects people differently. What do you think of Ren’s reaction to Scott’s death? Her parents’ reaction? How do you think a different reaction from her parents would have altered Ren’s response to the loss. How do you think they could have handled Scott’s death better?
  4. Scott’s appearances to Ren are usually announced by a snatch of music. How is Scott’s ghost a metaphor for the way we hold on to memories of lost loved ones? What kinds of things cause you to remember people you have lost?
  5. Silas challenges Ren in a way that she has never been challenged before. How is he different from the other men that she has dated in the past? What does he offer her that those men did not?
  6. Gin Phillips has chosen a quote from the Book of Ruth for her epigraph, and in many ways Lynay and Non’s story mirrors the story of Ruth. Think about female companionship in Come In and Cover Me. How important is it? What is the significance of the last line of the novel in this context?
  7. Storytelling is deeply important to all of the characters. In what ways do their attitudes toward telling their own stories differ? Think about storytelling in a larger context. Why is it important that we tell stories about ourselves to other people? How does Ren’s refusal to share her past hinder her ability to be part of a community?
  8. Phillips takes time to pay attention to the little moments between people, whether between Ren and Silas, Ren as a child and her family, or Ren and the group at the dig. How do these moments bind us together? Silas talks often about how communities are shaped by outside influences. How do we build our own communities from the inside?