HOW TO SET YOURSELF ON FIRE by Julia Dixon Evans

HOW TO SET YOURSELF ON FIRE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A box of love letters leads to an unlikely friendship between a socially awkward woman and a grief-stricken girl.

Sheila, the protagonist of Evans’ debut novel, appears to be at an all-time low. At 35, she keeps leaving her temp jobs. She sleeps strange hours and spends most of her time in the shared concrete courtyard outside her apartment where she hears everything her neighbor Vinnie does. On top of this, her grandmother has just died. Sheila is not a conventionally likable character, but her incredible oddness makes her interesting. She has a knack for off-putting responses and laughing at precisely the wrong times. When she learns that Vinnie’s ex-wife has been in a terrible accident, she asks him for the details. “I’m just a sucker for the gore,” she says. Eventually, this accident brings Vinnie’s 12-year-old daughter, Torrey, to live with him. Soon, Sheila is getting to know her neighbors as people. She shows Torrey a box of love letters written to her grandmother, letters Sheila did not know existed until her grandmother’s death. The two become obsessed with the letters and the man who wrote them. The friendship that develops between Torrey and Sheila gives the book its real heart. Torrey matches Sheila’s extreme immaturity with her own wisdom, and their bond feels unexpected and fresh. The characters are stronger than the plot, however, which unfolds predictably. The letters themselves—which have such a powerful hold over Sheila and Torrey—are overly sentimental and melodramatic. Perhaps this is the point, but so many of them are included it begins to drag the book down. And Evans includes a few narrative elements that feel gimmicky and don’t quite land.

Memorable characters are the bright spots in a forgettable plot.

Pub Date: May 8th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-945814-50-1
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Dzanc
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2018




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