Title: How to Set Yourself On Fire
Writer: Julia Dixon Evans
Publishing House: Dzanc Books
Date of Publication: May 8th 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Every wildfire, I feel safe and I don’t feel safe. I care and I don’t care and this is my California. From the concrete walk of the courtyard, I count the ants in twos as they rush across the tops of my shoes, two, four, six, dozens, hundreds, too many to possible all know where they’re going. There’s nothing out here for them, just sidewalk cracks, lifeless plants leaning against the walls, cheap patio furniture, my neighbour’s ashtray, the low- hanging loneliness heavy in the air. I wonder what the ants know that I don’t.’’
Sheila’s life is a minefield waiting to explode. Unable to keep a steady job, with minuscule social interaction, carrying the enormous burden of guilt over her relationship with her mother, haunted by the absence of her father. Until two deaths change everything. Two deaths, a shoebox full of letters dating back to the 50s, a kind neighbour and his twelve-year-old daughter.
‘’My mother always hated cooking onions, so the smell is not nostalgic for me. It’s not a smell of home. It’s a smell of somewhere else, something else, someone else. It’s a smell of longing. It’s a smell of lacking.’’
Julia Dixon Evans writes about motherhood, fatherhood, and companionship. Yes, we want to be ‘’strong’’ and ‘’independent’’ and some of us believe that the fewer people the better (it works wonders for someone’s sanity…) but absolute loneliness seldom solved any problems. This story is an ode to complex relationships, the bond between parents and children, the poisoned thistle of unreciprocated love which can easily become a living Hell. All the doubts and fears, the enormous what-if that torments us all. Living without an aim, a purpose, existing in real-life limbo. And at the heart of it all, the bond between a teenage girl and a grown-up woman who has to open a door on the wall she has been carefully building all these years.
Seen through the eyes of an honest, direct character, a woman that is absolutely, totally messed-up in the most enticing, tangible way, this is a story set in lazy days and sultry nights, full of that special quiet before the storm.
‘’O God, make speed to save us. O God, make haste to help us.’’