Review and Giveaway: The Fires by Alan Cheuse

The Fires by Alan Cheuse of NPR Radio fame is an intense reading experience comprised of two novellas in which people set fire to something precious.  The stories have elements in common- love and memories, misery and grief, loss and transformation- but the characters are very different. 

In the first story, The Fires, Gina Morgan travels to Uzbekistan, where her husband Paul has perished in a car accident on a business trip after falling asleep at the wheel.  Procedures for cremation, her husband’s wish, are elaborate and difficult in the Soviet Union, but she is determined and enlists the help of the American embassy.  She is able to make it happen only through a Hindu ceremony, a surreal experience in which she, the grieving widow, is the one to light the funeral pyre, and lights up her skirt in the process.  Later she marvels at her feelings of freedom. 

In the second story, The Exorcism, Tom Swanson travels to an exclusive New England college to pick up his daughter Ceely after she has been expelled from school for setting fire to a piano.  Ceely’s mother, a famous American jazz pianist, has recently died of a drug overdose, and her daughter is filled with anger, rage, grief.   You could feel both the daughter and the father struggling to be understood.  In this story there were long sentences that became almost stream of consciousness and dreamlike.  For instance, in part of the story, Tom is driving Ceely home from college.  While she sleeps he is thinking of all the things he’d like to tell her.  Here he thinks back on why he and Ceely’s mother separated when their daughter was 3: 

“Sure, she’d be home every day she was playing in town, but she was sleeping a lot of the time we were awake, so even when she was with us she was apart, so we didn’t so much as actually separate as kind of erode, like a beach washed away after one heavy tide after another.” 

There were comic moments here, too.  The father is constantly forgiving others in an effort to cleanse his soul.  He forgives his father, his wife, his ex wife, his daughter, the dean at his daughter’s school; for various things, like being jealous, or being angry, or for just being human.  He even forgives the couple in the hotel room next to his for their wild sexcapades that kept him awake half the night, but the next day he calls their room repeatedly in retaliation.  So I guess he forgave but could not forget!

These stories are extremely well crafted and excellently told.  I would love to hear them in Cheuse’s smooth radio voice.  They are compelling, tragic, yet funny at times. I enjoyed the symbolism of fire and words like sacrifice, destruction, purification kept coming to mind while I was reading.  

Published by the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, I received The Fires from the Literary Ventures Fund.  For a chance to win my copy, leave a comment here by June 6th.


26 Responses

  1. Sounds good! Include me in the drawing, please.

  2. As an NPR aficionado, I look forward to any NPR personality’s book. This sounds like one I shouldn’t miss. Thanks for getting the word out. I’d love to win your copy!!

  3. WOW! I am very interested in this book now. You’re review was fantastic.
    I hope you are feeling better.

  4. I’m not a fan of novellas but these sound pretty good. Tossing my hat in for a chance to win.


  5. I need to get off my reading-butt and get this read. If not this, then something else that Kate from LVF sent me. I feel bad that I’ve only read one of the 6 books so far, and I’ve had them for like 3 weeks.

  6. Great review! Thanks for the opportunity.

  7. Sounds awesome! Who doesn’t love setting fire to things?

  8. I’d love a chance at winning this book. Please enter my name.

  9. What an interesting book! Please enter me in the drawing.

  10. […] it! Guest Post: In Prais… on In Praise of Book Clubsbeastmomma on Review and Giveaway: The Fire…Ilissa H. on Review and Giveaway: The Fire…tara on Guest Post: In Praise of Book […]

  11. Thanks for your review! The book sounds very interesting! Please, include me in the drawing.

  12. What a great review! I would love to be entered in the drawing, but even if i don’t win, I’ll be looking for this book. It sounds right up my alley.

  13. This sounds great – I’d love to be included! Also saw in a previous post that Meg Waite Clayton will be doing a guest blog – that will be great. I can’t wait to read it.

  14. Souns like a good read. Do put my name into the hat!


  15. […] it! Guest Post: In Prais… on In Praise of Book Clubsgautami tripathy on Review and Giveaway: The Fire…gentle reader on 10 Ways to Spice Up Your Book …tara on Guest Post: In Praise of […]

  16. Please put my name in the hat to win!

  17. Thanks. Please enter me. I’d love to read this book.

  18. Your giveaway has been linked to the June ’08 Giveaways and Contests post at

  19. Thanks for this great giveaway. Sounds amazing and intriguing.

  20. I’m reading “Spirit of the Place” from LVF; this looks like a great book, too! Count me in! I’ve posted about it on my blog.

  21. […] The winner of The Fires by Alan Cheuse is Jessica! Read the review HERE. […]

  22. Thanks, Lisa!! I’m looking forward to getting into this book(s). I’ll post a review when I’m done.

  23. Sounds like a wonderful novella. I would love to be entered in the drawing for your copy. Thanks very much! Cindi

  24. […] from Book On The Brain wrote an excellent review here, check it out too! Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Strange ‘phone callsDidn’t […]

  25. […] with meme listings by day of the week can be found here. I recently won and received a copy of The Fires from Books on the Brain. Thank you! The 24-Hour Read-a-thon is quickly approaching. Alan Cheuse makes suggestions for […]

  26. […] from Books On The Brain wrote an excellent review here, check it out […]

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