What I Read at the Fire

by Patrick on August 28, 2009

It’s smokey in Pasadena today.  We’ve got fires burning all around us, and the air quality is, well, it’s not great.  I feel a little bit like I’m working at Sterling-Cooper.  On Wednesday, as I walked to the Metro station, a man stopped me and asked when the last time it rained was.  I didn’t have an answer for him.  Fire in Southern California is a way of life.  Every heat wave, every summer, someplace burns.  You just hope you’re prepared and that the fires don’t affect too many neighborhoods.  Everyone here at Vroman’s sends good thoughts out to those in areas near the fires, particularly our friends in La Canada.  To get an idea of the size of the fires, check out these photos from Hometown Pasadena, or watch Danica’s video of the La Canada fire (and follow @LA_fires on Twitter for more):


All of these wildfires (and the crews assigned to fight them) have me thinking of one of the best new books of the season, Michelle Huneven’s BlameBlame was lovingly written about by one of our buyers, Sherri Gallentine, in the latest issue of The Essential (Again, if you’re not getting The Essential, feel free to sign up at any time).  I’m also a big fan of the book, which performs a narrative trick I haven’t seen before.  What’s the trick?  Well, read the book.

As the novel opens, Patsy MacLemoore finds herself arrested for killing two people while driving drunk.  Through some legal technicalities, she gets the charges reduced, but she still finds herself in prison.  Huneven describes the tension, the boredom and the humiliation of incarceration in great detail, yet never slips into sensationalism.  After a year of good behavior, Patsy succeeds in getting transferred to a special camp where she can work outdoors.  The work, it turns out, is fighting wildfires in the hills of the Angeles National Forrest.  Here she describes getting caught in a sudden flare up:

This is when we die, she thought with unnatural calm, here are the superheated fumes that melt my lungs.  She was curiously unafraid and very interested.  Death by fire, she’d heard, was not like drowning or asthma.  With fused lungs, there was no convulsive struggle and not much pain.  You could think to the end.  She found Antonia, grabbed her, and held on.

After Patsy’s release from prison, she spends a while kicking around Pasadena, Altadena and environs, but she ends up settling in, you guessed it, La Canada-Flintridge.  If you haven’t read this book, now is really the perfect time to read it. (Also, Huneven will be at Vroman’s on September 10 to discuss Blame.)

Have a great weekend, everybody.  We hope you survive the fires intact.