Monday, November 8, 2010

“Nothing Left to Burn”

By Jay Varner
ISBN No. 978-1-56512-609-1

Forget “Mommie Dearest” and “Running with Scissors”, we have a new childhood memoir that defines the tell-all memoir. How’s this for a good hook? A son reports on fires for the local newspaper, his dad fights them, and his grandfather sets them. Amazing in premise and engrossing in execution, this bizarre history of THE dysfunctional family to end all dysfunctional families makes everything else you’ve read about distant fathers and alcoholic mothers seem tame by comparison. Even better than the book’s hook is its subtle motif: the destructive and yet cleansing effects of fire – so perfect for an age of Global Warming. Quote me on this: I believe that the vampire trend will eventually be replaced by pyromania.
Even better, Varner writes with both the economy of a newspaper reporter (a heat wave “feels like the countryside is sealed inside a clammy Mason jar”) and the florid poignancy of the best writers of fiction (“His face looked washed in exhaustion-blue crescent pouches formed under his eyes, and the lids look permanently heavy”). It’s a potent combo for audiences enjoying an embarrassment of riches as more and more non-fiction (Dave Cullen’s “Columbine”) turns out to be even more compelling and rewarding as the best fiction.