A memoir of a man devastated by the loss of his home in a forest fire and the therapy that helped him recover.
Central Texas sometimes seems to have only two seasons: drought and flood. Fritz and his family were living amid the woods in Bastrop, southeast of Austin, when a combination of scorching fire and stormlike winds (without the rain) ravaged the area and destroyed hundreds of homes. “It is the story of what fire—my former friend and artistic collaborator—brought about as it ripped me from my comfortable and self-satisfied life and brought me to a place both strangely familiar and utterly new,” writes the author, who as a potter had long used fire to his artistic benefit. Though the thematic arc of his story is cathartic for readers as well as the writer, the book’s structure is problematic. It adheres to what journalists call a “tick-tock,” proceeding through the hours and days of the fire and its aftermath (with occasionally confusing flashbacks). Many sections find the author relating extended conversations that he couldn’t possibly have remembered verbatim, unless he was writing notes for a book, which couldn’t have been a primary concern. It also features such specifics of time that also would have been impossible to re-create from memory, unless, again, the author were taking detailed notes. But the power of the book is in the recovery, as Fritz and his family relocated to Austin and faced the tensions of his depression. “I flipped from self-pity to self-blame,” he writes, remembering how he had made a foolhardy trip home as the fire raged, grabbing what he could rather than what was most important. Through the help of therapy and medication, he finds “mindfulness and acceptance” and the strength to make a fresh start in a place with haunted memories.
The memoir is uneven, but the author admirably hopes to help others who would benefit from therapy but might consider it a sign of weakness.