Firemen battle flames and cope with liberated women and fragile romances in Corbiere’s debut novel.
It’s 1975, and the sexual revolution is roiling the fire department of Ryerson, Calif., with marital tension and sexual intrigue. Firefighter David Alcott fights his growing attraction to fetching court reporter Meggan while he struggles to save his marriage to Jenny, a rising executive who accuses him of trying to control her while she spends her time partying with stuck-up friends. Meanwhile, David’s buddy Jeff doesn’t want his wife Rachael to work, thus sparking a resentment that is quickly exploited by department lothario Matt. Then there’s Elliott, a mysterious, mild-mannered firefighter who unexpectedly shows up at the departmental picnic with a hot blonde twin on each arm. With plenty of downtime in between emergency calls (and pranks featuring exploding toilets), the guys in the fire station ready-room hash out their relationship issues and more, veering between their native macho banter and earnest colloquies on feminism—“Now they just want to be treated as individuals with the same rights we have”—and faith. Corbiere, a retired fire-department captain, has a nice feel for the camaraderie of firehouse life and makes his sharply etched characters complex, three-dimensional people rather than the stereotypical gung-ho lugs. The extensive relationship talk and gossip about who’s kissing whom can sometimes give the proceedings the air of a high-school lunch hall, at which points we’re glad to hear the bell summon the first-responders to duty. As David and his comrades head out to confront raging fires or the subtler horrors of emergency medical service calls, Corbiere delivers first-rate action scenes, full of taut procedural, vivid imagery—a burning industrial furnace “glow[s] with liquid orange glass pouring from the breach in its side as if it was a wounded prehistoric beast”—and moments of quiet pathos as the firemen come to terms with danger and loss.
An incendiary melodrama that’s also a gripping and soulful saga of California’s bravest.