Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: "How to Set a Fire and Why" by Jesse Ball

I have been circling around the work of Jesse Ball for a few years. I was always impressed with his prolific output, but a bit put off by his style, which, from a few glances at his past few books, struck me as detached and emotionally scattered. But with his new book, How to Set A Fire and Why, I feel I picked a good one to begin with. To begin, it is a very scattered book whose themes and ideas are a little hard to grasp with the syntax Ball puts forth and what kind of narrator we have. But I had a really good time with this book, more so than really expected, and some of the books flaws, which I will discuss soon, actually add to the book’s overall charm. The narrator on hand is Lucia, a young girl who has recently suffered a tragedy, and is acting out in increasingly aggressive ways. Her father has died, her mother is in a mental hospital and she is constantly kicked out of schools for disciplinary reasons. She lives with her aunt in a crappy garage, and is attending another school, this one with its own burgeoning group of min-terrorist who call themselves the Arson Club, and armed with her dad’s lighter, she intends to join at any cost. Lucia is unreliable at best, the world seen through her skewed, quasi-nihilistic solipsism. She is a cross between Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and that annoying chick from My Life as Liz, passably smart, yet lacking true self-awareness of the basics of empathy, so all the other characters are either too stupid (especially the male characters) or emotional fodder. But she is entertaining, and through a few emotional scenes, one involving and easily predicted death, her humanity shines through, as does the humanity of the story. This won’t be on my year-end list, but I found this book to be way more of a blast than I anticipated. 

Rating: 4/5

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