When Jay Varner, fresh out of college, returns home to work for the local newspaper, he knows that he will have to deal with the memories of a childhood haunted by a grandfather who was both menacing and comical and by a father who died too young and who never managed to be the father Jay so desperately needed him to be. In digging into the past, he uncovers layers of secrets, lies, and half-truths. It is only when he finally has the truth in hand that he comes to an understanding of the forces that drove his father, and of the fires that for all his efforts his father could never extinguish.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-06-28
- Reviewer: Staff
Journalist Varner traces a scorched circle of memory in this affecting memoir. Going home after college to live with his widowed mother in their double-wide trailer in tiny McVeytown, Pa., Varner confronts a complicated past in which his father, Denton, was the heroic, beloved chief of the local volunteer fire corps, and his grandfather, a generally callous soul called Lucky, was a suspected arsonist. In this often bleak, relentless first book Varner earnestly measures his memories, resentments, and prospects against the expectations he once felt as the only son of a big man in a small community. As he describes the effort: "everything in this book is my truth." Varner's intense tale of fathers and sons exhausts even as it fascinates, leaving little room for humor and only an uneasy redemption. "I am picking open a scab that will never fully heal," Varner concludes of the contradictory emotions his story evokes. Looking to fire--as much a character as an event in these pages--to both destroy and purify the past, this story, in the end, generates more heat than light. (Sept.)