"There isn't anything in the world that hurts like a burn." No one knows the pain of a fire more than the women of the Keegan/O'Reilly clan. Read more...
"There isn't anything in the world that hurts like a burn." No one knows the pain of a fire more than the women of the Keegan/O'Reilly clan. Kathleen Donohoe's stunning debut novel brings to life seven unsentimental, wry, and evocative portraits of women from a family of firefighters. When we meet Norah -- the first member of her family to move from Ireland to New York -- she is a mother of three, contemplating her husband's casket as his men give him a full fireman's funeral, and faced with a terrible choice. Norah's mother-in-law, Delia, is stoic and self-preserving. Her early losses have made her keep her children close and her secrets closer. Eileen, Delia's daughter, adopted from Ireland and tough-as-nails, yet desperate for a sense of belonging, is one of the first women firefighters in New York. It is through her eyes that we experience 9/11, blindsided by the events of that terrible day along with her. Poignant, wise, and immersive, Ashes of Fiery Weather is a tour de force in the tradition of Let the Great World Spin, one that explores the emotional wounds and ultimate resilience of those drawn to fire, as well as the many ways we search for each other, and the many ways we hope to be rescued.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-06-20
- Reviewer: Staff
This breathtaking first novel spans several generations of Irish-American women whose lives revolve around the Glory Devlins, the Brooklyn fire company of which their loved ones are members. In 1983, we meet Norah O’Reilly, whose firefighter husband, Sean, has just died in a fire, leaving her to raise four children on her own. The story then travels back and forth in time, introducing Sean’s mother, Delia Keegan O’Reilly, a closeted lesbian; Annie-Rose Devlin Keegan, Delia’s mother, who loses two young sons to the influenza pandemic of 1918; and Sean’s adopted sister, Eileen O’Reilly Maddox, one of the FDNY’s first female firefighters. The story builds up to Sept. 11, 2001, as Sean’s daughter, Maggie, a graduate student in Irish literature studying in Ireland, tries desperately to learn news of her family. It all ends with Katie McKenna, the 20-year-old daughter Maggie gave up for adoption at birth, trying to find her biological roots 11 years after her adoptive mother died in the South Tower. The child of a family of Irish-American firefighters, the author shows how tradition, sorrow, and love of the old country bind these lives together. Her depiction of 9/11 is by far one of the best fictional accounts by that terrible day in which 343 members of the FDNY perished. In the end, her novel is a moving testament to the men and women who risk their lives every day. (Aug.)
Fighting the fire
Kathleen Donohoe’s first novel, Ashes of Fiery Weather, introduces readers to the stubborn, courageous and sometimes flawed women of the Keegan/O’Reilly family. Central to the story is the evolution of firefighting, a multigenerational career that binds the family together.
Donohoe’s characters range across six generations, bound together by devotion, tradition and hardship. Each woman faces her own struggle, from Irish-born Norah, who must find a way to raise a family after her husband is killed in the line of duty, to her stubborn sister-in-law, Eileen, who fights to become one of the first female firefighters in New York City.
What makes Donohoe’s novel stand out from other family sagas is the authentic insight she brings to her work. Clearly inspired by the author’s own family history, Ashes of Fiery Weather at times feels more like a memoir than a work of fiction. The crowning achievement of the book, however, is Donohoe’s unaffected and chilling portrayal of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Although readers will know what is coming, this does nothing to dim the force and shock of Donohoe’s depiction, told through the eyes of Eileen, one of the many firefighters on-site that day.
Ashes of Fiery Weather is a beautifully crafted story, one that serves not only as a homage to the legacy and traditions of New York firefighters, but also to the families who love, support and often mourn them. Donohoe has created an emotional, deeply moving work that will stay with readers long after the last page.