Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs (a review)

The Fireman's Wife: A Novel
3.5 out of 5: The Fireman's Wife tells the story of a troubled marriage in chapters that alternate between the first-person narratives of a husband (Peck) and a wife (Cassie). True to his southern fiction roots, Riggs’s real strength in this book is his evocative descriptions of the two distinct landscapes that feature in this story, the mountains and the low country of South Carolina. These landscapes play a critical role in the plot and help to form the identities of the primary characters. In many places, the characters seem like personifications of the land. In this excerpt, Cassie describes the low country where she and Peck live:

Here along the salt creeks and beaches, the sun demands that you disrobe to nothing, sink knee-deep into black mud, dig out oysters, or empty crab pots. Seining nets are like bridal veils thrown into creeks capturing shrimp and minnows, their transparent bodies nearly invisible in the turbid muck. It is all part of the land's requirement that you become a living part of the rivers and
Cassie’s and Peck’s voices are simple and honest. These characters talk like real people. The effect is mostly pure and unpretentious but, occasionally, the casual dialog becomes tedious in its banality. Also, because there's very little distinction between the voices of Cassie and Peck, the shifting point-of-view structure of the book has little effect. The plot--including a rocky marriage, a troubled teenager, and a real estate dispute--feels clumsy but is mostly redeemed by the sweeping landscapes in which it unfolds.

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