On Fire

On Fire

by Larry Brown
     
 

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On January 6, 1990, after seventeen years on the job, award-winning novelist Larry Brown quit the Oxford, Mississippi, Fire Department. With three published books to his credit and a fourth nearly finished, he made the risky decision to try life as a full-time writer. On Fire, his first work of nonfiction, looks back on his life as a full-time firefighter.

Overview

On January 6, 1990, after seventeen years on the job, award-winning novelist Larry Brown quit the Oxford, Mississippi, Fire Department. With three published books to his credit and a fourth nearly finished, he made the risky decision to try life as a full-time writer. On Fire, his first work of nonfiction, looks back on his life as a full-time firefighter. Unflinching accounts of daily trauma--from the blistering heat of burning trailer homes to the crunch of broken glass at crash scenes--catapult readers into the hard reality that has driven Larry Brown.

As firefighter and fireman-turned-author, as husband and hunter, and as father and son, Brown offers insights into the choices men face pursuing their life’s work. And, in the forthright style we expect from Larry Brown, his diary builds incrementally and forcefully to the explanation of how one man who regularly confronted death began to burn with the desire to write about life.

On Fire is a book in which an extraordinarily gifted writer looks back and reflects on the violence of his life as a fireman. Thoreau said it one way: “However mean your life is, meet it and live it.” Larry Brown says it another:

You have to meet the thing, is what it is . . . and for the firefighter it is fire. It has to be faced and defeated so that you prove to yourself that you meet the measure of the job. You cannot turn your back on it, as much as you would like to be in cooler air.

“Larry Brown has an ear for the way people talk, an eye for their habits and manners, a heart for the frailties and foibles, and a love for their struggles and triumphs. His fireman’s diary is a wonderful book.” —John Grisham, author of The Firm and The Client

"Larry Brown is never romantic about danger and . . . in this book he goes through his life with the same meticulous attention with which Thoreau circled the woods around Walden Pond." —The New York Times Book Review.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This memorable collection of short essays, some of them merely fragments, is the first venture into nonfiction by fireman turned novelist Brown ( Dirty Work ). After 17 years as a firefighter in Oxford, Miss., home of the state university and William Faulkner, Brown devoted himself to full-time writing, which had been an avocation for 10 years. Most of his observations here are about fighting fires, the camaraderie among those who perform this service, the tragedies and the miracles they encounter. But there are other pieces, some humorous, others poignant, on Brown's family, on hunting and fishing, on his pets and his attempts to raise rabbits for the market. 25,000 first printing; $25,000 ad/ promo; author tour. (Jan.)
John Mort
Brown, author of the award-winning working-class novel "Joe" (1991), here gives nonfiction a try with a memoir of his fire-fighting days in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. Most of a firefighter's 24-hour day is spent killing time: cooking, watching dirty movies, doing routine equipment maintenance, and sleeping; Brown catches the lazy, good-old-boy camaraderie of the firehouse perfectly. With somewhat less success, he also reflects on how he spends his 48 hours off--fishing, drinking, hunting, and playing with his kids. Such tales are charming but sound a minor key when placed alongside the account of a fire at Ole Miss' law school, in which Brown captures precisely the adrenaline rush, fear, and exhaustion beyond reasoning that a big fire evokes in firefighters. Brown's compassionate rendering of ambulance runs, where he uses the hydraulic Hurst tool to break through smashed vehicles and reach trapped victims, is the best writing here, however. Brown portrays himself modestly, not as a hero risking his life, but simply as a professional with a job to do. Brown's work schedule is too loose a means of organization, but his individual essays are witty, reverent, and moving.
Kirkus Reviews
Brown brings to his first work of nonfiction the same no- nonsense style that makes his novels and short stories (Big Bad Love, 1990, etc.) so powerful and intense. This episodic memoir of his life as a firefighter is also a testament to family, courage, and hard work, and Brown isn't afraid to risk being sappy, albeit in a manly way. A self-taught writer, Brown supported himself and his family for 16 years as a fireman in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. A veteran of the Marines, he found the same brotherhood in the station house, and also a similar test of muscle, brain, and heart. A firefighter can be "a prick, a thief, a liar," but he can't be a coward. Each fire "has to be faced and defeated," and you never "forget death and pain, or fear." Brown sings the praises of his tools—the beauty of knots, hoses, and sirens. He inventories the back rooms, and re-creates the boredom of waiting as well as the pleasures of cooking for the boys and watching sex and violence on the VCR. But nothing beats the adrenaline rush of a call, whether to a burning building or a car wreck: Both require a reflex-like response, and the joy of saving lives cannot be equalled. Interspersed throughout the rambling narrative are anecdotes from Brown's life: his guilt over killing a mouse; his early joy in hunting and fishing; his love for his family and his squirrel dog. The funny tale of his temporary separation from his wife has all the hard-luck pathos of the author's best short stories. Brown confesses to drinking too much and to being otherwise content with his life. Yet he reluctantly abandoned firefighting to become a full-time writer—and he's done extraordinarily well at it since. A remarkable addition to the literature of work. This may not be the first book by a fireman—but it's one of the best. (First printing of 25,000)

Reviews

“Larry Brown has an ear for the way people talk, an eye for their habits and manners, a heart for the frailties and foibles, and a love for their struggles and triumphs. His fireman’s diary is a wonderful book.” —John Grisham, author of The Firm and The Client

"Larry Brown is never romantic about danger and . . . in this book he goes through his life with the same meticulous attention with which Thoreau circled the woods around Walden Pond." —The New York Times Book Review.

From the Publisher
“Larry Brown has an ear for the way people talk, an eye for their habits and manners, a heart for the frailties and foibles, and a love for their struggles and triumphs. His fireman’s diary is a wonderful book.” —John Grisham, author of The Firm and The Client

"Larry Brown is never romantic about danger and . . . in this book he goes through his life with the same meticulous attention with which Thoreau circled the woods around Walden Pond." —The New York Times Book Review.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565128088
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
01/01/1994
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
192
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Larry Brown was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he lived all his life. At the age of thirty, a captain in the Oxford Fire Department, he decided to become a writer and worked toward that goal for seven years before publishing his first book, Facing the Music, a collection of stories, in 1988. With the publication of his first novel, Dirty Work, he quit the fire station in order to write fulltime. Between then and his untimely death in 2004, he published seven more books. His three grown children and his widow, Mary Annie Brown, live near Oxford.

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