So this is what my life has come to. I’ve become the person I never wanted to be. No, I didn’t kill anyone…but I did read a shit ton of books and never came back to review them. Now it seems almost a Sisyphean task, but I’m going to see if I can double up my reviews and you can deal with my cheating in silence on the other end of the Internet, ‘mkay?
I’m a big fan of Lisa Lutz. She wrote the Spellman Files, Heads You Lose (a collaboration with an ex that’s actually meta and hilarious) and most recently, The Passenger. When I saw that she had another book out (that I apparently missed last year) and it was about three longtime female friends, I was interested. I was particularly interested because Lutz does not seem to be a chick lit kind of writer. I like my chick lit, but I like other things more…also, my two lifelong friends and I had stopped talking to each other (and it’s mostly my fault) and I kind of wanted to read about other lifelong friends struggle so that I didn’t feel that bad about myself–ah the shadenfreude. Long story short, I decided to buy How to Start a Fire…
…but instead, I mixed it up and I purchased, How to Start and Fire and Why by Jesse Ball. Laughing at myself, I thought, “Ok, I’ll read this one first.” How to Start a Fire and Why is a teenage coming of age story that follows our very intelligent, very snarky Lucia who has a very rough life. Her father is dead, her mother is in an institution and doesn’t recognize her and her grandmother is nearing the end of her life. We get a sense that we know Lucia, she wants to join an Arson Club (which is basically like Fight Club but with fire). We get that she’s tired of rules, and being poor, and dealing with less intelligent people around her that constantly have more…and then we realize that we know just as much about Lucia as she knows about herself–which is to say, we don’t know what we know and we don’t know what to believe. I liked the book, but I think I liked the character of Lucia more than the actual book. I felt like it didn’t know if it wanted to be a coming of age novel or if it wanted to be a thriller, but it certainly didn’t carry both at the same time and felt somewhat uneven. I felt like more was going to happen…and then it didn’t…and then it kinda did…but then it didn’t. 3.5/5
So THEN, I pulled up How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz (the original book I was looking for) and started reading the book that I wanted initially. This book follows three women (Kate Smirnoff, Anna Fury and Georgianna “George” Leoni) who become friends in college and the waxing and waning of their friendship over the next twenty years. The girls and their personal problems affect their lives and relationships in the ’90’s but also things unsaid, addictions unchecked (alcohol and pills for Anna, obsessions for Kate and the need to be desired for George), actions either not questioned or accepted as “that’s just Anna, or just George or just Kate” affect all three of them. Change is inevitable in terms of relationships, closeness and the desire to not repeat the same mistakes that have been repeated on and off for 20 years. There are hints that at least one will repeat the same mistakes indefinitely, trading happiness for safety. The other two seem to have made peace with their inner demons and seem ready to build a life (as opposed to the fires that are central to (and symbolic of) the girls’ friendship. Unfortunately, the book jumps back and forth from the ’90’s to present day in a disjointed way, a major plot point gets delivered too late and things wrap up just a little too neatly/the girls are a little too stereotypical to ignore. So it was an ok book…but it was a book that came at a time where I had to work through a few things and therefore I see it a little better than it actually is. 3/5