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Wednesday, August 31, 2016
1:56 pm edt
Ashes of Fiery Weather
I cannot believe I have posted a book review since June. Not by my own choosing, mind
you. it's been not only a long, hotter than hot summer, which has really done me in. Not to mention that the past two or so
months have been fraught with a few personal trials and tribulations. The least of which included having to replace my trusty
ol' laptop. But with my new Dell and
the promise of cooler weather in the next few weeks, I am, I hope, back on track.
The title of today's novel -- as well as its content -- is quite apropos
of not only this on-going spate of heat and humidity but also the new exhibit opening Friday at the Historical Society of
the Phoenixville Area: "Smoke, Fire, and Bravery: A History of Phoenixville's Fire Companies". Both the well-written
novel and the fabulous display have brought back many memories from back in the day...
My father’s oldest brother was once a Captain
in the Dobbs Ferry Fire Department. I don’t know or quite remember which station (there are three in the now expanding
village, I think), but I do recall him riding on a hook and ladder in Memorial Day parades, clad in full dress uniform decorated
with the many medals he had earned. My Da, not one much for heroes, called him “a brave soul, putting out fires, saving
lives…” Uncle Dougie succumbed, or so the urban family legend goes, in the line of duty, very much the courageous
captain his younger brother so admired.
help but recall his memory when I read an advanced copy of Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe. It is a seminal tribute
to the 343 members of the Fire Department of New York City who lost their lives in the line of duty during the 9/11 tragedy;
the fifteenth anniversary of which is next week. This debut novel’s publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt couldn’t
have been more timely. Nor more poignant.
Set in Brooklyn, Ashes of Fiery Weather tells not the stories of firemen, but of seven women,
all members of the Irish clan of O’Reilly who, as the title aptly suggests, “weathers” the various tragedies
of fires their men – husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins – as members of the FDNY are called to
fight. It spans a blazing history of the family in Brooklyn from 1918 through September 2012, each account told from the perspective
of a woman, including a wife unexpectedly now a widow; a mother silently grieving for her losses; a sister determined to follow
in her brother’s footsteps; a daughter coming to gripes with adulthood; a unexpected cousin, newly discovered. Each
story is told in a rich, flowing writing style that uses simple words and phrases to convey complex emotions and situations;
probing into the abyss of all aspects of familiar relationships.
To say Donohoe is a genius of a writer is an
understatement. Her literary talent, reminiscent of Flannery O’Conner, Eudora Welty, and William J. Kennedy –
with a subtle dash of Keatsian poetic nuance – polishes each plotline facet into a sparkling diamond of wisdom, wit,
and heart-wrenching circumstances. Her characters are so real, one could almost hear their Irish Brooklyn brogues ringing
in the ears. This author stunningly and compassionately renders each woman’s story in excellent juxtaposition of intertwining
families as they bravely face alongside their men the most terrifying experiences of their (and our) lives. It is, to say
the least, one of the better, most finely crafted, most satisfying novels of the year.
Ashes of Fiery Weather is a must read that will fire up the deepest imaginations of reality, leaving you burning for more.
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville
during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her fourth novel.