I think of this as the adult version of the firefighter books that I read to my son everyday. Okay, not really, but it was much more interesting than “Clang, clang, clang goes the fire engine bell!” Rick Bass’s story was one of the few stories in my library copy that was given a rating of 3 checks by a previous reader. I decided to read it just to see if it was worth 3 checks and it sure was. Bass does an amazing job of weaving together opposites: family relationships and firefighting, water and fire to name a few. Parts of the story read like very well-done non-fiction. Bass’s details on firefighting are amazing:
Bats, which have been out hunting, begin to return in swarms, dancing above the flames, and begin flying in dark agitated funnels back down the chimney of the house that’s on fire, if it is not a winter fire – if the chimney has been dormant – trying to rescue their flightless young, which are roosting in the chimney, or sometimes the attic, or beneath the eaves. The bats all return to the house as it burns down, but no one ever sees any of them come back out.
But, the emotional complexity of Kirby, the fireman, is particularly compelling. On the one hand, he is not a very good husband. He just doesn’t seem to be wholly invested in his marriage. On the other hand, the need that he has for his daughter from his first marriage, illustrates that he is capable of deep feelings of love.
I also liked Bass’s description of the short story:
Short stories seem to me, then, to be about shape and texture, a thing the reader can hold in one hand, or in both hands – differing, in that regard, from the unwieldy painting of a novella, and certainly from the landscape or eco-system of a novel, which one inhabits, rather than being inhabited by.