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On Fire by Larry Brown

On Fire (1994)

by Larry Brown

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Larry Brown, a Mississippi fireman, wrote these recollections which include some heart-warming stories in addition to the mind-numbingly tragic ones. In one case, his company had been called to a trailer fire. The trailer was half-destroyed when they arrived — “They always are”, — but fortunately no one was home. They discovered puppy on the floor with all the classic signs of death: eyes glazed over and bowels evacuated. They carried him out, and one of the firemen remarked how they had all the lifesaving equipment along, why not give the puppy a shot. They slid the oxygen tube in the puppy’s mouth and amazingly he came out of it. Not all of the stories are as pleasant. “Some of the boys on another shift, just playing around out of boredom and in good-natured [!:] fun, tie one of the nozzlemen into a rolling chair with lots of rope and push him off down Price Hill into traffic. They say his screams were something to behold.”

Brown's early death was a tragedy. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I love Larry Brown's writing. So simple, yet so affecting and evocative. This collection of autobiographical tales was written as a reflection on the time in his life from the '70s to the early 90s as an Oxford Fire Department member in Mississippi. That alone would be good enough - his stories tell of the unique esprit de corps in the fire station and of the many harrowing emergencies they would attend. But this book is more than just this. Brown writes of what that life was like as a colleague among the truest of friends, as a professional - sure of his abilities and confident in his training and equipment, as a man coping with moments of life, death and devastation on a routine basis, and as a husband and father living a blue collar existence in a simple home doing simple things.

It is these latter recollections which penetrated the most - you feel the soul of the man as he tells of half-hearted hunting expeditions with his sons, planting trees with his buddies in a snowy January landscape, or the heartbreaking episode of the disappearing kittens and the stuggle to settle with himself the ethics of raising rabbits for profit.

Intermittently he makes reference to his private passion - writing - and his efforts to fit that parallel vocation in with his home and work lives. These tiny insights are fascinating, and truly give an indication of what kind of a man he was.
Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote Polaris- | Apr 21, 2011 |
Showing 2 of 2
ON FIRE is actually about a number of things - life in a southern town, being versed in country matters, learning to become a writer, teaching oneself to see.
added by Polaris- | editVirginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star
Larry Brown has slapped his own fresh tattoo on the big right arm of Southern lit.
added by Polaris- | editWashington Post
A meditation on not only his years with the Oxford Fire Department, but also on being a husband and father, his struggle to become a writer and the changes that brought to his life, life in the rural Mississippi county he was born to, and finally life its own self.
added by Polaris- | editLos Angeles Times
The very man you'd choose to save your life in a fire...A work of great thematic integrity....With his artful understatement Mr Brown shows that to be either human or animal is to engage in a game with death and danger, perversely, tragically, heroically, or absurdly....In the end, ON FIRE shows itself to be constructed like a spider web; one may touch any filament to discover the delicate interdependence of the whole. In this context, fragility and beauty are twinned. Mr Brown is never romantic about danger, but the presence of real danger does illuminate the preciousness of life, and in this book Mr Brown goes through his life with the same meticulous attention with which Thoreau circled the woods around Walden Pond.
added by Polaris- | editNew York Times
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This book is for Sam: faithful friend, loyal companion.
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I joined the Oxford , Mississippi, Fire Department when I was 22.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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[Back cover]
The author of 'Big Bad Love' and 'Joe', he's one of the most original and highly acclaimed novelists in American literature today. Now Larry Brown writes about his life as a firefighter in Oxford, Mississippi, and about real people and real danger.
Roaring flames engulf trailer homes. Car wrecks trap their vicitims in twisted steel. Somehow, between calls, firefighters go on...watching TV in the firehouse and raising their kids at home, and don't talk about the death they've seen or the life they've just saved. From the harrowing search for elusive fires to the men's unending struggle for balance in their private lives, this is the world of ON FIRE--and what it means to be a hero, a friend, a husband, and a man.
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On January 6, 1990, after seventeen years on the job, award-winning novelist Larry Brown quit the Oxford, Mississippi, Fire Department. With three published books to his credit and a fourth nearly finished, he made the risky decision to try life as a full-time writer. On Fire, his first work of nonfiction, looks back on his life as a full-time firefighter.Unflinching accounts of daily trauma - from the blistering heat of burning trailer homes to the crunch of broken glass at crash scenes - catapult readers into the hard reality that has driven Larry Brown.As firefighter and fireman-turned-author, as husband and hunter, and as father and son, Brown offers insights into the choices men face pursuing their life's work. And, in the forthright style we expect from Larry Brown, his diary builds incrementally and forcefully to the explanation of how one man who regularly confronted death began to burn with the desire to write about life.… (more)

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