ON FIRE by Larry Brown


A Personal Account of Life, and Death, and Choices


 Brown brings to his first work of nonfiction the same no- nonsense style that makes his novels and short stories (Big Bad Love, 1990, etc.) so powerful and intense. This episodic memoir of his life as a firefighter is also a testament to family, courage, and hard work, and Brown isn't afraid to risk being sappy, albeit in a manly way. A self-taught writer, Brown supported himself and his family for 16 years as a fireman in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. A veteran of the Marines, he found the same brotherhood in the station house, and also a similar test of muscle, brain, and heart. A firefighter can be ``a prick, a thief, a liar,'' but he can't be a coward. Each fire ``has to be faced and defeated,'' and you never ``forget death and pain, or fear.'' Brown sings the praises of his tools--the beauty of knots, hoses, and sirens. He inventories the back rooms, and re-creates the boredom of waiting as well as the pleasures of cooking for the boys and watching sex and violence on the VCR. But nothing beats the adrenaline rush of a call, whether to a burning building or a car wreck: Both require a reflex-like response, and the joy of saving lives cannot be equalled. Interspersed throughout the rambling narrative are anecdotes from Brown's life: his guilt over killing a mouse; his early joy in hunting and fishing; his love for his family and his squirrel dog. The funny tale of his temporary separation from his wife has all the hard-luck pathos of the author's best short stories. Brown confesses to drinking too much and to being otherwise content with his life. Yet he reluctantly abandoned firefighting to become a full-time writer--and he's done extraordinarily well at it since. A remarkable addition to the literature of work. This may not be the first book by a fireman--but it's one of the best. (First printing of 25,000)

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1994
ISBN: 1-56512-009-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1993


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