Friday, October 16, 2015

Book review: How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Although I find them unrealistic, I do very much like books about college or childhood friends who stay friends through adulthood, through thick and thin. I wish life really worked that way and I'm not 100% sure I buy that this trio would have stayed together in reality but I'm glad it did in fiction.

In college, roommates Kate and Anna stumble across George one night, splayed out in the lawn on a fraternity, looking worse for wear. As George is a member of the women's basketball team, it is no easy trick for Kate and Anna to help her back to a dorm but they manage (with the help of a grocery cart). The next day the roommates take George on their already-planned trip up to Northern California to check out the redwoods. And a fast friendship is made. Kate, a med student from a posh family, spirals down into alcoholism and drug abuse. Anna is betrayed by a family member and spends many years post-college being a barista and TV addict. George, a forest ranger, marries one unfortunate man after another, having a series of little boys. All of them strive to fill gaping holes in their lives instead of patching the holes themselves, which is always a recipe for disaster.

I loved how three-dimensional and real these three women were. I especially loved how both Kate and George plunged headlong into their lives and how desperately they tried to stay ahead of their various poor coping methods. Anna I greatly appreciated, as she showed how one doesn't need to make colossally bad life-altering decisions in the face of emotional trauma--instead one can sink into a quiet ennui. Each of them grow and mature in their own ways, eventually finding better, less destructive coping methods as they grow up.

The book bounces around in time, over the course of about twenty years. And it bounces from character to character. I had no trouble telling them each apart although I greatly appreciated the dateline. Sometimes we were shown the aftermath of an incident well before the incident itself was revealed, as a trick to keep the big reveals for the end without having the climax midway through the book. And I think that was an excellent choice here, as the climax often has repercussions and fallout that can't be adequately covered in a more conventionally-plotted book, as it would feel like a peculiarly long denouement.

An excellent story of female friendship that stands the test of time (and boy, is it tested!)

I checked this book out of the library.

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