four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
By: 
Lynn Stegner
user_rating: 
0

A-Because a Fire Was in My HeadIt’s 1970 and Kate Riley, a 39-year-old firecracker, is about to undergo brain surgery for a tumor she knows doesn’t exist. Lying in her hospital bed, she remembers her nomadic journey from a hardscrabble 1930s childhood in rural Vancouver, a father’s death and an abusive mom included, to frequent moves up and down the California coast. Always in need of male attention, Kate engages in many destructive love affairs, which result in children whom she soon abandons. Will this complex and troubled woman ever find respite from her lusty ways?
University of Nebraska Press. 286 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0803211392

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A novel fully realized on every level, Because a Fire Was in My Head is a provocative literary work of weight and luster. A risky, intermittently melodramatic tale, it casts light both on the timeless mysteries of the human psyche and on the paradoxes of a notoriously contrary epoch, namely, post-World War II North America. … [Stegner writes] with lyrical grandeur and psychological gravitas." Donna Seaman

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Stegner turns a potential monster into a character both fascinating and pitiable; you may hate Kate, but you won’t want to leave her." Leah Greenblatt

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"How refreshing it is to have a female protagonist who is as egotistical and ruthless in her pursuit of pleasure as any of her male counterparts! The poetic detail of Stegner’s sentences—not to mention her wanton protagonist—is reminiscent of the novels of John Updike. An old-fashioned wordsmith, Stegner is a writer who isn’t particularly interested in postmodern gimmickry, preferring simply to concentrate on telling a good story." Julia Scheeres

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Stegner makes Kate a chilling and realistic character study that shows how ugly the human beast can be when the veneer of compassion is stripped away. … [Her] avoidance of misogyny in a tale in which a woman uses sex to get what she wants while ruining the lives of everyone around her is a feat of skilled writing indeed." Cherie Parker

Critical Summary

Since the novel’s anti-heroine is unabashedly self-absorbed and unsympathetic, convincing a reader to care for her is a true accomplishment. Four-time novelist Lynn Stegner pulls it off with panache. Yes, it has a slow beginning, and it does trace a grim and troubling downward spiral. Still, it rings true. Emotionally troubled characters are a dime a dozen, but Kate Riley’s sexual longings and American heart put her in a class of her own. The New York Times Book Review even goes on record to say that this poetic novel "ought to attract for Stegner the wider audience she so richly deserves." Here’s hoping it does.