A Matter of Life and Death in Texas
by Chuck Cox
I enjoyed reading Chuck Cox's 2017 novella "A Matter of Life and Death in Texas" again. I read it when it came out two years ago, and it's quite the mid-80's pop culture refresher.
Set in the fictional Central Texas town of Trinity Springs in 1986, it tells the tale of an idyllic little community where everybody seems to get along on the surface. But just after school lets out in 1986, that perfect small-town life is shaken to its core when a tragic accident takes the life of one of the community's shining young teen stars. For some unknown reason, Katy Christoval dies in a car accident returning from a mysterious trip to nearby Austin. She's almost home when the accident occurs on a road she knows well, but for reasons that aren't clear at first, she was exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour.
Her young boyfriend Graham Chandler is devastated, and the story picks up just as he's beginning his senior year after a summer dealing with Katy's loss. There's a new kid in town, however - Tyler Nixon - and he riles up Graham and his friends on the first day of school when he tells Graham that he can help him see Katy again.
From here, Cox uses the concept of time travel to explore whether or not things turn out for the best even when they seem to be at their worst. Of course we can't travel back in time, but as Graham wakes up one morning to relive the fateful day of Katy's passing, you can forgive the reader for hoping maybe there will be one final happy reunion. Maybe Graham and Katy share a secret that one of them didn't get to tell the other? Or maybe Graham gives Katy an engagement ring he had already bought? Or maybe Graham simply shows up in time to drive Katy safely home, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Not a chance.
It turns out time travel is just a vehicle for Cox to make the case that things can always be worse than we think. And as sad as the story of Katy's passing is, the author then adeptly uses the final chapters of the book to prove that very point.