The Fireman's Wife: A Novel [NOOK Book]


It’s June 1970. As the low country of South Carolina burns in a seven-month drought, Cassie Johnson longs for escape: both from her husband, Peck, the town’s newly promoted fire chief, who seems more interested in saving everyone else’s life than in living his own, and from the low country marshes where Cassie has never quite felt at home. But as Peck and Cassie drift apart, their teenage daughter, Kelly, finds herself torn between her parents and her desperate need for normalcy. It will take a tumultuous journey...
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The Fireman's Wife: A Novel

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It’s June 1970. As the low country of South Carolina burns in a seven-month drought, Cassie Johnson longs for escape: both from her husband, Peck, the town’s newly promoted fire chief, who seems more interested in saving everyone else’s life than in living his own, and from the low country marshes where Cassie has never quite felt at home. But as Peck and Cassie drift apart, their teenage daughter, Kelly, finds herself torn between her parents and her desperate need for normalcy. It will take a tumultuous journey back to the North Carolina mountains before Cassie can begin to understand the complicated love that resides, unrecognized, deep in her heart.

From a masterly voice in Southern fiction, The Fireman’s Wife is an emotionally bare and moving novel about one woman’s struggle to do what’s right–for her family, for her love, and for herself.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The unhappy wife of a fireman in 1970 realizes too late that her independence comes at a high price in Riggs's often heavy-handed novel. Early pregnancy forced Cassie Johnson into a marriage and a life she wasn't sure she wanted. Her husband Peck's job as their small South Carolina town's fire chief prevents him from giving her the attention she craves. Cassie finds solace in the arms of another fireman, Clay Taylor, and leaves town with him, determined to start over, but when she realizes she's just repeating her mistakes, she flees to her mother in the mountains for some soul searching. Soon she realizes the unexpected and tragic consequences of her actions. Riggs's 1970s South bears little resemblance to the South of social turmoil, and he overuses tired metaphors of rain, drought and oppressive humidity. But despite Cassie's lack of complexity, Riggs captures her internal life well and gives her conflicts legitimacy and gravitas. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Read The Fireman's Wife, a book so beautifully crafted and compelling you can't put it down, and see for yourself why Jack Riggs is a writer on his way to the top. The details are so vivid in this unforgettable book that you'll never look at the working lives of firemen, or their families, in the same way."
—Cassandra King, author of The Sunday Wife

“Jack Riggs’ The Fireman’s Wife is the kind of book that reminds you of the reason you love reading – a story wonderfully told, with memorable characters and tense and tender moments. Written in the first person voices of Cassie and Peck, it examines the fragility of a woman caught between her history and her uncertainty – a story that suggests a smattering of experiences we’ve all had in one fashion or another. Riggs is an accomplished story-teller and a splendid writer and The Fireman’s Wife is a book you will happily share with reader-friends.”
—Terry Kay, author of The Valley of Light

“Jack Riggs has written an honest, brave, riveting, and heartbreaking novel about relationships, loyalties, betrayals, and transcendence. The Fireman’s Wife is a great book, full of heart and, ultimately, hope. You will not want to put it down.
—Connie May Fowler, author of The Problem with Murmur Lee and Before Women had Wings

The Fireman’s Wife is a compelling portrait of an unraveling marriage. Jack Riggs' empathy for his characters, coupled with a refusal to judge them, gives the novel an integrity that makes this story all the more memorable.”
—Ron Rash, author of Serena
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345513236
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/30/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 3 MB

Reading Group Guide

1. Early in the novel, as Cassie is about to leave with Clay, she hesitates. “Clay Taylor is a fireman too, and what good would it do to live with him, trade one fireman for another?” Do you think she’s running away from Peck himself, or from his way of life? In what ways is Clay a better, or worse, choice for her? How would Cassie and Peck’s marriage have been different if Peck hadn’t been a fireman?

2. Cassie feels trapped by the low country in which Peck and Kelly thrive, while Peck is uncomfortable at Meemaw’s house in the mountains. Talk about the ways in which landscape and environment affect and define each of the characters in The Fireman’s Wife. How do you feel your own life and personality have been shaped by the environment in which you grew up?

3. The book begins, and ends, with Cassie thinking about the Great Wallenda’s tightrope walk across Tallulah Gorge. What symbolic significance does this event hold in the novel? How does the meaning of the tightrope walk change for Cassie by the end of the book?

4. Cassie explains, “Peck always told me that in a fire there’s nothing good for anyone, not those caught in it or those that have to fight it.” What larger significance does this statement have for the events of the book? In what ways does Cassie’s decision to leave Peck resemble this kind of fire?

5. There are several different kinds of parent- child relationships in the novel: Cassie and Kelly, Parker and Cassie, Pops and Peck, etc. Even Peck and Cassie have very different approaches to parenting their daughter. How do these family relationships affect the individuals involved, and how could each be improved? What do you think makes each of these parents and children treat each other the way they do? What lessons can be learned from these relationships?

6. “Momma used to say children were empty vessels that we fill.” Do you agree with this statement? What evidence does the story offer for and against this idea?

7. Peck’s first emergency call is for a child who died because his parents weren’t paying attention–ironically, this call takes him away from an important moment in his own daughter’s life. In what ways do the series of fire calls narrated in the book reflect on Peck’s and Cassie’s own lives? How do they add to and deepen the meaning of the novel?

8. Clay tells Cassie, “I don’t think anything could make you happy.” Is that true, do you think? What is Cassie looking for? Do you think she’ll ever find it?

9. Peck is surrounded by old friends like Teddy, and an alternate “family” of sorts at the firehouse; Cassie spends most of her time alone, or clashing with Kelly. How do you think this influences their different outlooks on life?

10. Meemaw, Cassie, and Kelly are each very different women. Discuss the ways in which their passions and personalities repre­sent the worlds in which they came (or are coming) of age.

11. What do you think attracts Cassie to Clay? Do you ultimately think he is a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

12. When Peck apologizes for taking Pops to a nursing home, Pops explains that “a man builds his home in his heart.” How true do you think this is for the other characters in the novel? What symbolic role do physical houses–Cassie and Peck’s house on the marsh, Clay’s rented cottage in Walhalla, Meemaw’s little house on the dis­puted land in Whiteside Cove–play in the lives of their inhabitants?

13. The story takes place in the summer of 1970. Why is this timing important? How would Cassie’s and Peck’s lives be different if their story were happening today?

14. Cassie is a headstrong character, with stubborn opinions of her own–yet she is always quoting the thoughts and comments of the men in her life. In what ways is she passive, and in what ways is she active? How does her passivity contribute to her frustration, and is there anything you think she could have done to resolve it without leaving Peck? How does this frustration play out in her relationship with Kelly?

15. Cassie says, “I’ve come too far, even if I fail, to give up trying now.” She says this about running away with Clay, but could it be applied to her life with Peck as well? Do you agree with her statement? Is it a good principle to live by? Why or why not?

16. The novel’s title is The Fireman’s Wife. Ultimately, whose story do you think it is–the fireman’s, or his wife’s? In what ways is it accurate, or not, to define Cassie as mainly a “fireman’s wife”? Does this change as the novel progresses?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 14, 2012

    I love that this is based in South Carolina. I am a local so th

    I love that this is based in South Carolina. I am a local so the description of places were all the more vivid. This book is very well written, it engrossed me into every detail of the characters lives. I am not one of the types to cry over a movie or book, however the climax really caught me off guard and tears were flowing. Excellent book!

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  • Posted May 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I'll recommend THE FIREMAN'S WIFE to all my friends

    THE FIREMAN'S WIFE is a love story-a gritty, complicated, messy, intimate love story-the best kind there is.
    My favorite book I've read this year.

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  • Posted December 23, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    a deep character study

    In June 1970 South Carolina low country is in its seventh month without rain. Drought or not Cassie Johnson is bored with being the wife of Walhalla fire chief Peck and even the mother of their fifteen year old daughter, all star pitcher Kelly; the reason she married responsible Peck. The drought just makes it more oppressive on her as her spouse is always putting out fires. Since the last rain, she and firefighter Clay Taylor have had an affair hotter than an out of control blaze; he even jokes that the rain will only come if they cool their relationship.<BR/><BR/>Finally having enough of her husband¿s too busy to see to her needs, Cassie and Clay run away together. However, a revelation strikes her that by fleeing with Taylor, she is repeating the same error that led to her marrying Peck. Cassie leaves Clay to go stay with her mom in the nearby mountains to look inside and determine what she wants, but fate waits for no one as she will soon learn.<BR/><BR/>THE FIREMAN¿S WIFE is a deep character study that looks inside to what motivates the title protagonist. The support cast is developed to enable readers to better understand why Cassie feels the way she does. The tale is clearly hers as she finds her heart as arid as the weather and her soul as oppressed as the humidity. Fans of strong family dramas (cannot say historical as key 1970 social elements like the civil rights and anti war movements are lacking) will enjoy Cassie¿s tale as she learns the grass is not greener on the other side especially during a drought and as the Moody Blues¿ song says: ¿Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home¿.<BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

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    Posted April 27, 2011

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    Posted January 20, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2009

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