A troubled adolescent girl dreams of setting fire to the world.
It starts with a stabbing and ends with a conflagration, and, in between, the novel never once telegraphs where it’s going. Serial surrealist Ball (A Cure for Suicide, 2015, etc.) has been justly accused of a variety of experimental ploys, but you can’t deny that when he delivers, it’s never quite what you expected. In this stark epistolary novel, the author fully occupies the inner life of a teenage girl, Lucia Stanton, who is writing down her experiences. When we meet her, she’s in the principal’s office for stabbing a boy who touched her most treasured possession, her dead father’s Zippo lighter. “So, I said, many times I said it, don’t touch this lighter or I will kill you,” she writes. “I think because I am a girl people thought I didn’t mean it.” Lucia lives with her kindly but destitute aunt in a converted garage with an overgrown garden. She makes predictions—not telling the future, she stresses—and writes them down in The Book of How Things Will Go. She’s not as profane as Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, but they share a certain aimlessness and cynicism about adults that rings true. Over the course of the novel, Lucia visits her ailing mother, gets high, flunks out of school, and ultimately falls in with some disillusioned young people in an Arson Club that dares her to start a fire. She also pens a brilliant pamphlet of the same title that’s nested within the pages of her scribblings. “It takes you some years to become the person who can burn a building, so be it,” she writes. “Carry your matches in your pocket, look at the faces of those who surround you in the crowd. Are we not all the same? Do we not all strive to simply have enough?”
A brilliant portrayal of a girl who’s quite aware of what she’s going through.