Friday, November 6, 2009

Tillmon County Fire -- Pamela Ehrenberg


From the prologue:

I can look at this page, this news about the trial and all the background noise around it, and I can say that this is my life, and also the life of a lot of other young and old and church-going and non-church-going and hard-working and not-so-hard-working people who live in Tillmon County and places just like it. It's my life, but it's their life too. We're in this together, however we might feel about each other at any particular moment. And remembering that makes me think, at least for a little while, that maybe I've found the point.

Tillmon County Fire is a collection of connected stories that describe, one after the other and in many voices, the lead up to and the aftermath of a fire in the community.

The narrators of each story -- a young man who finds God at summer camp; a 17-year-old who doesn't think much of his non-interest in his girlfriend until he sets eyes on the new guy from New York; the girlfriend, who has troubles and dreams she's never shared with her distracted boyfriend; the new guy from New York; a trumpet player; his autistic twin brother; a pregnant girl who works in the hardware store, among others -- speak in clear, distinct voices (and different fonts) that, while separate and individual, form a chorus, even though they don't realize it themselves.

I loved the format, and I felt that the different fonts worked -- in some cases, it would have felt gimmicky, but not here. The writing was too strong for that. I always enjoy seeing the same setting and the same event from different perspectives, and Tillmon County Fire not only achieved that, but made it feel real.

I did think that the Postscript detracted from the book. It felt tacked-on and unnecessary. I didn't feel that I needed the story of Aiden's early life, as his story and his actions during the trial made it very clear that, like everyone else, he's a complicated person: not evil, not perfect. The Postscript made it feel too easy, too pat -- that suddenly every bad decision he made could be somehow traced back to that event. I felt like it lessened him somehow.

Overall, though, I enjoyed it very much -- I'll be looking for more from Pamela Ehrenberg, and I hope specifically that there's more short fiction in her writing future.

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Book source: Cybils nominee; review copy from the publisher.

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Crossposted at Bookshelves of Doom.


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