Executive Times






                             2008 Book Reviews      


The Fires by Alan Cheuse




(Mildly Recommended)




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Alan Cheuse’s new book, The Fires, offers two novellas to readers: The Fires and The Exorcism. Both novellas explore grief. In The Fires, a wife learns that her husband died in a car accident in Uzbekistan, and she heads there to retrieve his body for the cremation he wanted. Cheuse burns out on the fiery theme, from the accident itself, to the wife’s hot flashes, to the Hindu cremation ceremony. While finely written, The Fires suffers from the novella structure: a short story would have been tighter, and a novel would have had greater character development. This being neither of those, it lost a bit as a result. The Exorcism delves into a husband’s sadness following his wife’s sudden death, alongside the reactions of their daughter, Ceely. Dark humor made this novella a bit more enjoyable, but it also suffered from the shortcomings of the structure. Here’s an excerpt, from the novella titled “The Exorcism,” beginning of Chapter 2, “The Dogs,” pp. 85-6:

I awoke at first light, basking in the luxurious silence that enveloped the room, the floor, the entire hotel, the street, the town, perhaps even the state and the entire eastern seaboard, the nation, the hemisphere, the world. The headache hit me just as I lay my head back onto the pillow, hoping for more sleep. I had clocked only about three hours, and I was suffering, and my compassion for the couple in the next room had evaporated in the night.

I knew my room number and from that subtracted two, and picked up the telephone and punched out that new number. Through the wall I could hear their telephone ring once, twice, and then I broke off the call. Three more times I did this before either of them could pick up receiver. I could hear faint mumblings. I punched the number again. I got up, took a shower, and called the number again. Twice more, and then I got dressed. Twice more. And then I left the room.

The lobby was deserted, except for the young college boy behind the desk. He looked up at me as I passed by, but didn't speak. It was cool outside, and the hot coffee I found at a little doughnut shop on the main street filled me with warm cheer. After a while I returned to the hotel, called the room next to mine several more times, and by then it was almost time to meet Ceely for breakfast.

She was waiting on the porch, smoking and staring into space, in a dark sweater and baggy jeans looking beautiful and fresh, which made me, in my nearly sleepless condition, feel as bad as I had ever felt. But Rashid wasn't there, and so I sighed a father's sigh of relief.

Ceely flicked away the cigarette and picked up a bag and carried it to the car.

"What about the rest of your stuff?" I asked.

"Rashid is going to put it in the storage room for me," she said, settling in to her seat.

"That's awfully nice of him," I said. "That means you plan on coming back?"

"Father," she said, as if that were an answer.

"Father," she said again when I reproved her for ducking out of the breakfast place for a quick cigarette.

"You'll have to direct me to the dean's office," I said when it got near the time for our appointment.

Silence for a while as Ceely sipped at her coffee. "I'm not going," she said.

"Hey," I said, "Charmaine is fixing up your old room—"

"I mean I'm not going to this meeting," she said. "I don't want to talk to that lame bitch. She's the one needs psychiatric care. Lonely old dyke."

I sighed and wiped my mouth with my napkin, looking around the room as if there might be something the waitress could do for me. That was when I caught a glimpse of Rashid standing outside the restaurant, leaning against a parking meter, smoking casually.

The Fires will provide just the right amount of reading for a short flight. If you’re arriving in a place where you want to be, that should be just the ticket to wipe away any lingering sadness or recollections of grief that may be triggered by these novellas.


Steve Hopkins, May 15, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the June 2008 issue of Executive Times


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