The Fire Within, by Kathryn Shay

>> Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Fire Within is the 4th book in Kathryn Shay's America's Bravest series, all about the firefighters of Rockford, a small town in upstate NY. I've read the first 3 and 1 and 3 were pretty good, while the second was so good it made me (me!) cry.

Dr. Reed MacCauley has spent years helping firefighters deal with their problems and the stress of their jobs. But Reed--a former firefighter himself--questions his own courage. Dr. Delany Shaw is the woman who loves him, and she's trained to chase demons--even from strong, brave, stubborn men like Reed.
This one, I'm afraid, was quite a disappointment. A C+.

I think this was a case of an author falling in love with her research a bit too much, so much she cared more about sharing it with her readers than about telling the story she was supposed to tell.

It was fascinating material and I was interested in it, but rather than a romance novel, the book read like a thinly disguised public service announcement, complete with fakey conversations in which characters asked each other stuff, not because they wanted to know, but because the author wanted the reader to know but didn't know how to do it otherwise.

In fact, every single interaction felt like that, calculated not to advance the story or develop the characters, but to illustrate the psychological repercussions of a firefighter's work on themselves and their families, and the story got completely lost because of this.

This meant, of course, that the characters (both the protagonists and the secondaries, like Sam and his family) didn't feel particularly real, either. They seemed more like case studies than anything else, and their actions felt like they'd been lifted straight from a psychology textbook, maybe even one of the books Reed had on his shelves... "PTSD and the Rescue Worker", for instance. That made it hard to work up any emotion about them.

Shay has shown a tendency to do this before, to let her story be overwhelmed by the "issues" she chooses to write about (I remember her being perilously close in Promises to Keep), but unfortunately, she went overboard in TFW.


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