Air and Fire

Air and Fire

by Rupert Thomson
     
 
In the 1890s, 'Lower California' is a land adrift, peopled by Indians and half-breeds, and now by the French as well. The Indians are indifferent to Western notions of time and industry. The French, on the other hand, are sufficiently meticulous to import 2,348 pieces of cast iron to the desolate mining town of Santa Sofia, there to be assembled into a church under

Overview

In the 1890s, 'Lower California' is a land adrift, peopled by Indians and half-breeds, and now by the French as well. The Indians are indifferent to Western notions of time and industry. The French, on the other hand, are sufficiently meticulous to import 2,348 pieces of cast iron to the desolate mining town of Santa Sofia, there to be assembled into a church under the supervision of a disciple of the renowned Gustave Eiffel.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thomson is an English novelist whose Dreams of Leaving and The Five Gates of Hell have been well received on both sides of the Atlantic; and Air and Fire is quite a tour de force. Set in an acutely observed Baja California, Mexico, just before the turn of the century, it is the story of a French engineer, Theo Valence, an associate of the great Gustav Eiffel, sent out to set up a prefabricated iron church to the glory of the French colony in a remote mining town. His beautiful wife Suzanne, an adventurous soul who loves her husband much more powerfully than he can ever love her, is at once appalled and entranced by the grindingly hot, dusty town and its Mexican and Indian inhabitants. A rootless young American prospector, Wilson Pharaoh, falls passionately under her spell but cannot bring himself to interfere with what he thinks of as a happy marriage, and rides off blindly into the desert. She also comes to obsess the local Mexican army commander, who writes her a florid love letter, takes her for a trip in his private submarine and, to show his suicidal passion, shoots his horse for her sake. These events give only a hint of the remarkable blend of surrealism and romantic extravagance, dreams and harsh reality, that Thomson achieves. His writing is at once spare and rich, evoking a dazzlingly strange world with humor and terror; and the dying fall of the ending is poignantly exquisite. Air and Fire is that unusual combination, a powerfully felt romance that is also literature. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Thomson's lyrical new work opens at sea as Suzanne Valence travels with her husband, Theopile, to Santa Sofia, Mexico. There Theopile, a protege of A.G. Eiffel, is directing the construction of a church. Much younger than her husband, who neglects her for his work, and unconventional without quite realizing it, Suzanne creates quite a stir in Santa Sofia: the French community doesn't know what to make of her, and she is relentlessly pursued by Captain Montoya. The one person who truly appreciates her is an American prospector named Wilson Pharaoh, who eventually risks his life to save hers--without, however, winning her love. Suzanne's growing alienation from those around her is paralleled by native resistance to outside domination, directed as much at the Mexican government as the Europeans, though the church is eventually destroyed in an uprising. Celebrating dignity in the face of disillusion, Thomson's exquisite tale boasts finely detailed settings, rich and apt characterization, and a flood of beautiful writing. His ability to get inside a woman's skin without turning her into a cause is particularly impressive. Recommended for most collections.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Eloise Kinney
Thomson--author of the surrealistic "Five Gates of Hell" (1991)--has written a deeply entertaining, richly textured tale featuring characters who are a bit twisted, unique, hard to imagine and forget. At the end of the nineteenth century, Monsieur Valence is sent by master builder Eiffel to Santa Sofia, California, to build a church. His young wife, Suzanne, travels with him. In Santa Sofia, they meet the small clique of Frenchmen and women who run the mines and try to be civilized while steering clear of the locals, especially an American prospector named Wilson Pharaoh. As Wilson and the high-spirited Suzanne become fast friends, troubles befall the group--Where to get a baguette? How to build a church when the workers don't have the same concept of time? How to suppress the evil and romantic designs of the commander of the military garrison? The dailiness of life in Santa Sofia is lusciously detailed, and Thomson proves again that he is an exceptionally talented and versatile author.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679425069
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/25/1994
Edition description:
1st American ed
Pages:
309

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