Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book Review: How to Set Yourself On Fire by Julia Dixon Evans

How to Set Yourself On Fire by Julia Dixon Evans
Paperback, 312 pages Published May 8th 2018 by Dzanc Books

I have to admit something right off the bat. On paper, reading the back cover description of this book there is no way I would normally have chosen to read this book. I would have shaken off the idea as just not for me. The old saying about judging books by their cover can be extended to many aspects of books which are complete experiences. I read this book because frankly I like Julia. She is a San Diego writer and yeah I naturally root for San Diego writers. I have read a few of her stories and they have all been great. More importantly for me I have seen Julia read/ perform her fiction before and I started this book knowing absolute zero about the plot. I got it and read it purely on the strength of the author.

Now that said I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see her tackle a horror novel, I mean she has written some great horror short stories but I have to admit to you loyal blog readers this is NOT a horror novel. It has some dark humor, but HTSYOF is a excellently written character focused novel.

Set here in San Diego this novel is the story of Sheila who struggles with life a little. She is temp who hates working and is reeling from the death of her Grandmother. Her life is thrown upside down when she finds a box of extra martial love letters in her Grandmother's shoe box. Before these letters the most exciting thing in her life was masturbating to PBS and ease dropping on her neighbor Vinnie's skype calls with his daughter on the east coast. For hilarious reasons Vinnie's daughter ends up moving out west to live with her father. She and Shelia strike up a friendship over the love letters and finding her Grandmother's long lost love Harold C. Carr.

I want to note that for some reason I pictured the Character of Vinnie, as Vinnie Paul of Pantera which made some turns with the character hard for me to take but that is a me problem.

OK back to How to Set Yourself on Fire. So yes Sheila is not exactly what I would call a winner, but she is such a excellently written character as are all the side characters in the piece. Vinnie, his daughter Torrey and Sheila's cringe inducing mother all make this book a page turning experience. I think the weird thing is that this is somewhat of a coming of age novel even though the main character is an adult. Shelia has alot of growing to do.

The most effective moments of writing are found in the moments of parallels, found between Shelia and the letters. Shelia wanted to believe in the romance as much as Harold Carr did. It is not her love story on the surface but it doesn't make it any less heart-breaking. There is a love story here, not a romantic one but Sheila, Vinnie and Torrey come together in a way that is heartwarming. A less talented writer would have spelled out this happy ending, but Julia Dixon Evans is to good a storyteller for that.

Five stars, big thumbs up. Another woman coming out of the San Diego writing scene this a first novel we should all salute. She might not have the sales of Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, but Evans wrote the better novel in my opinion. Read this excellent novel!

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