Reviewed by Kai Jimenez
By Krysten Ritter
277 pp. Crown Archetype.
Everybody has a memory they would much rather forget, a smidgen of their history they would much rather leave in the past. But the things we run from have an uncanny way of catching up with us, and most of the time, the farther we think we’ve gone, the quicker we descend back to old habits and patterns at the slightest pull from our past. After all, as our protagonist Abby Williams put it, “memories are like fire, and need only a little oxygen to grow.”
Still, we’d be hard-pressed to blame the likes of Abby Williams for spending the last decade running from her small-town roots and all the horrors that came with it – the bullying, the blackmail, and the depravity made worse by the suffocating smallness of Barrens, Indiana. For the most part, Abby succeeded in forgetting; she had built a life for herself in the big city of Chicago, ostensibly complete with a thriving social life, a pick of pretty clothes in a modern apartment, and a stable career in environmental law.
But her perfectly crafted veneer begins to crack when work brings Abby back to her hometown. As she searches for the “weak spots” that would help her expose environmental transgressions of the beloved corporation that turned the dying Barrens into the bustling factory town it had become, Abby also unwittingly found the weak spots of the narrative the whole town consented to accept. Suddenly, Abby finds herself caught in between the past and the present as the straightforward case that she came for uncovered a deep and intricate web of corporate corruption and coverups that all tie back to the history that she thought she left behind.
For the Filipino reader, relating to the story was a challenge from the start. Ritter’s prose effortlessly painted a clear picture of the nondescript town with a middle-of-nowhere vibe unique to small and contained communities. Still, the scenes, the community dynamic, and even the driving conflicts of the first few chapters were so far removed from our reality that finding something that resonated did not come naturally. Eventually, though, the novel finds its pace, and we discover that in between Ritter’s metaphor-riddled paragraphs that beneath the mysteries and incredulous conspiracies that plagued Barrens are truths that many of us know too well.
After all, how many times have we had old trauma blur the lines between history and fantasy? How often have we had to face the futility of running away from the things that haunt us, only to find ourselves circling back to the demons we never got around to confronting? How many times have we asked ourselves if it’s time to let go of our anger for the people who have hurt us, even if it means allowing it to dissipate unavenged to give way to acceptance and healing? These are the very same questions that Abby had to face, the very same ones most of us do every day.
Bonfire is the debut novel of actress Krysten Ritter, but to think of it as merely another actress’ book would be a disservice to the skill and vision that worked to create this gripping, slow-burning thriller. True, Bonfire has its weaknesses, the moments you’d wonder where Abby is leading you and if it’s her confusion or just a weakness of the prose that brought you there. Still, readers are treated to our fair share of plot twists, surprises, and satisfying ends to mysteries that Ritter can be forgiven for the small faults. Bonfire secures its place as a recommended read, if for nothing else but to nudge us forward in our own attempts to find out if we can every really outrun our past, and, more importantly, if we should.
Bonfire by Krysten Ritter will be available soon at Fully Booked. You can reserve a copy in advance here: goo.gl/Wes8aB.
Kai keeps an infinite fondness for curiosities under her pillow at night. She finds narratives and tells stories for a living, and is in constant search for fascination in worlds both real and imagined. You can find her on Instagram @rustwithstardust and on Medium @kai.jimenez
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]