The Fires by Alan Cheuse
“The Fires” is a work that is actually comprised of two novellas: “The Fires” and “The Exorcism.”
“The Fires” deals with a married couple, initially looking back on their life and disappointments together. Gina is dealing with menopause and the pain of the reality that she will never have a child after having one that died. Paul is an engineer who frequently works in Russia and is killed in a car crash in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The majority of the novella is Gina trying to process her husband’s death, trying to figure out how to honor Paul’s wish to be cremated while in a Muslim country, and simply trying to figure out how she will cope with the rest of her life.
“The Exorcism” also deals with death and cremation, but it focuses more on the aftermath of these things. Tom Swanson’s first wife has recently died and been cremated when he receives a call from the dean of his daughter’s college. When he arrives at her school, he discovers that, in her anger, she has set fire to a piano and has been suspended. Much of the story takes place in the car on their way home, with Tom imagining what he might say to her when he wakes up.
Alan Cheuse already has my dream job and now he seems fast on his way to becoming one of my favorite writers. Both stories took me fully into the head of the main character and were absolutely beautifully written. I will absolutely be looking for more of Cheuse’s work.