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The fires by Alan Cheuse

The fires (edition 2007)

by Alan Cheuse

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373306,014 (3.67)3
Title:The fires
Authors:Alan Cheuse
Info:[Santa Fe, N.M.?] : Santa Fe Writers Project, c2007.

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The Fires by Alan Cheuse

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A slightly expanded version of this review is posted on my blog at:

The pair of short novellas that together make up Alan Cheuse’s The Fires are excellently crafted and emotionally compelling works exploring themes of memory, love, loss, and renewal. As I read them I was often reminded of J.D. Salinger – almost as if we’d dropped back in on Franny and Zooey, now in their middle years with adult problems (and problem children) of their own. I’m not sure whether or not Cheuse would like to hear that, but for me it’s a great compliment.

In the first work (also titled “The Fires”), Gina Morgan, middle aged and menopausal, must travel to Uzbekistan to deal with the complications of retrieving her dead husband’s body after he’s killed in an auto accident. If that’s not bad enough, she also has the problem of carrying out his last wish – to be cremated – in a Muslim country where cremation isn’t practiced. In “The Exorcism,” Tom Swanson must deal with the aftermath of his daughter’s expulsion from college for setting fire to a grand piano in the college concert hall. Thus, the two instances of fire, another uniting element.

I enjoyed The Fires so much I immediately sat down and read it over a second time – something I rarely do, even with short works. And I think it will stand up to many re-readings. These are very fine stories by a gifted and insightful writer. ( )
  jlshall | Sep 1, 2008 |
“The Fires” is a work that is actually comprised of two novellas: “The Fires” and “The Exorcism.”

“The Fires” deals with a married couple, initially looking back on their life and disappointments together. Gina is dealing with menopause and the pain of the reality that she will never have a child after having one that died. Paul is an engineer who frequently works in Russia and is killed in a car crash in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The majority of the novella is Gina trying to process her husband’s death, trying to figure out how to honor Paul’s wish to be cremated while in a Muslim country, and simply trying to figure out how she will cope with the rest of her life.

“The Exorcism” also deals with death and cremation, but it focuses more on the aftermath of these things. Tom Swanson’s first wife has recently died and been cremated when he receives a call from the dean of his daughter’s college. When he arrives at her school, he discovers that, in her anger, she has set fire to a piano and has been suspended. Much of the story takes place in the car on their way home, with Tom imagining what he might say to her when he wakes up.

Alan Cheuse already has my dream job and now he seems fast on his way to becoming one of my favorite writers. Both stories took me fully into the head of the main character and were absolutely beautifully written. I will absolutely be looking for more of Cheuse’s work.

http://www.devourerofbooks.com/2008/06/the-fires-book-review/ ( )
  DevourerOfBooks | Jun 30, 2008 |
The Fires is a collection of two novellas, each concerning love and loss. In the first story, "The Fires", Gina Morgan travels to a former Soviet republic to retrieve the body of her husband who has been killed. In the second, "Exorcism", an unnamed narrator must deal with his own grief, and that of his daughter, after the death of his ex-wife.

The two novellas were strikingly different - the first was pure intensity from the opening sentence; the second used humor throughout the story to lighten the mood. Both dealt with the death of a spouse, but in the first the couple was still very much in love, and in the second they had moved past each other. But the novellas were linked with one common factor - fire, which played a role in each story.

Cheuse has a talent for engaging the reader immediately in the narrative. Neither of these stories is long - around 60 pages each - but he packs an immense amount of emotion into those few pages. Even though he is writing about grief, both stories leave the reader with a feeling of hope when the last page has turned. I have enjoyed Cheuse on NPR for some time, and now look forward to reading more of his work in print as well. ( )
  NeedMoreShelves | Jun 22, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0977679918, Paperback)

Finely-honed portraits of hope and change, these two novellas are linked so skillfully that they achieve the intensity of a single novel in which some characters succeed and others fail on separate but equally compelling quests. In "The Fires," Gina Morgan makes a pilgrimage to Uzbekistan to carry out her husband's final wish—to be cremated—only to find herself entirely at sea in the strange new reality of the former Soviet republic, while in "The Exorcism," Tom Swanson begins to make sense of his life when he retrieves his angry daughter from her exclusive New England college after her expulsion for setting fire to a grand piano.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:59 -0400)

Finely-honed portraits of hope and change, these two novellas are linked so skillfully that they achieve the intensity of a single novel in which some characters succeed and others fail on separate but equally compelling quests. In "The Fires," Gina Morgan makes a pilgrimage to Uzbekistan to carry out her husband's final wishto be crematedonly to find herself entirely at sea in the strange new reality of the former Soviet republic, while in "The Exorcism," Tom Swanson begins to make sense of his life when he retrieves his angry daughter from her exclusive New England college after her expulsion for setting fire to a grand piano.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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