A lukewarm first novel from Perabo (stories: Who I Was Supposed to Be, 1999) that tries to capture and criticize small-town America, in a plot-heavy story of a firefighter vaulted into fame by catastrophe.
Pennsylvania’s version of the Columbine scoundrels have made a mess: a small explosive device has leveled the home of one of the relatives of swastika-tattooed roustabout Ian Finch, who becomes trapped in the rubble. The rescue effort tests the mettle of Casey’s fire-department captain, Sonny Tucker, a fireman’s fireman whose idyllic life includes his son (the protagonist), 12-year-old Paul, who watches first as his father becomes trapped under the house with Finch, then as both emerge with the chilling tale that Sonny chopped off Finch’s foot to save him. Paul learns of courage and manhood as his father becomes a hero and the TV people arrive to turn it all into a miniseries. But the plot doesn’t quite get it: though Perabo’s prose is mostly bland and colorless, a disembodied intelligence descends occasionally to provide lyric insight. It’s as much out of place as it is refreshing. And this is how we are told that the fictional media’s version of the rescue is “both familiar and affirming in days when so little else is, constructed from the very myths we most long to believe.” All well and good—but then it turns out that Sonny isn’t himself anymore. His new fascination with the Finch boy, who is otherwise universally disliked, becomes the tension fulcrum, and the mystery of what really happened under the house keeps the story moving. Problem is, Perabo’s message never transcends itself. She wants to challenge the stereotypes created by the media, but she simply replaces them with other stereotypes: Finch turns out to be more than a Nazi thug; he’s the standard-issue misunderstood rebel.
A villainless media-bashing feel-gooder that reads like a pitch to Ron Howard, who unfortunately already did firemen.