How to Start a Fire was published just this year so I am totally on it yall. This is one of those rare occasions when I get to review something current. Sweet joy!
How to Start a Fire is about the lives and friendships of three very different women. Anna, Kate and George meet in college in Santa Cruz and the novel follows their relationships over the next 20 years. Anna is the ring leader of the group, she is always the life of the party, the planner of adventures. Anna is committed to having a good time, to escaping – escaping herself, her past. Raised in Boston by a very upper-crusty family Anna didn’t fit the mold her parents set for her. Kate is… sort of the babysitter of the group but not in a boring way. She is highly intelligent and a planner but at the same time scatter-brained and quirky. She was raised by her Grandfather after her parents were killed in a car accident when she was young. George is every guy’s “dream girl” – legs for days, tan, beautiful, athletic – everyone wants a piece of George, and she always picks the worst guy.
The novel opens in college with Anna and Kate leaving a party and finding George passed out under a tree. They don’t know who this girl is but they know they can’t leave her unconscious, out in the cold and in a short skirt. So Anna and Kate find a shopping cart and wheel her back to their dorm where they stash her for the night. After George regains consciousness the next day, the girls, mostly Anna, decide the cure for George’s hangover is a camping trip to the redwood forest – fresh air and giant trees should do the trick. Their camping trip is derailed however when they get a flat tire and instead spend the night drinking whiskey in a motel. After they drop George off at her dorm the next day, that’s it, they’re a package deal. And we come to know that that’s kind of their friendship, in a nutshell; crazy, fun, unexpected and drama-filled.
As college goes on, we understand that for all of her fun and whimsy, Anna is battling some pretty serious demons. Anna is determined to get into medical school but as crunch time approaches, she becomes less and less stable. She doesn’t sleep but studies for days straight, eating nothing but caffeine. She goes out drinking to oblivion, by herself most of the time, and makes some, shall we say questionable, choices concerning men. Kate and George know that Anna is on the verge but they’re helpless to stop her. After a particularly important and stressful final exam, Anna goes out to a local bar alone. She gives the bartender Kate’s number and tells her to call that number when its time for her to go. Anna knows what she is doing, she intends to drink until she can’t help herself. Anna’s awareness of her choice and her unwillingness, or inability, to stop is heartbreaking. Anna leaves the bar before Kate can come get her. That same night, a man breaks into the girls’ house and attacks George in her sleep. Kate, luckily, hears George’s screams and hits the attacker with an empty vodka bottle she found by the unlocked backdoor (Who left the door unlocked?….). Scared, Kate hits the intruder one more time for good measure. There are so many painful and defining questions come from this incident – Had Anna talked to the intruder at the bar? Did she leave the backdoor unlocked? Did he follow her home? Worse yet, did she invite him back with her?
From this moment, the girls lives splinter. Anna is accepted to medical school back East and essentially kidnaps Kate into moving with her. Kate is adrift; the intruder she hit does not recover. She saved George’s life, of course, but Kate can’t get around having taken someone else’s in exchange. Anna knows, somewhere deep that she can’t get to, that she is responsible for that attack, and so she can’t leave Kate to stumble along on her own. The thing is, Anna can’t take care of herself much less anyone else. George is obviously traumatized and her coping mechanism is men. Since the attack, she cannot sleep in a bed alone. And so, beautiful, perfect George finds herself in a series of bad relationships that turn into bad marriages and ugly divorces. Over time the girls come together and fall apart but there is always the undercurrent of their connection to one another. When Anna’s addiction turns to drugs, George and Kate help to get her to rehab. When George’s second marriage goes up in flames, Anna comes to stay with her to help her (she is high the whole time though, rehab didn’t stick the first time). When Kate goes on a cross-country trip of redemption, Anna and George stay in touch with her, pulling her back to her life, even when she wishes they wouldn’t. There are so many other great and important parts of this book but to reveal too much would be a mistake. You want to read about their journey back to each and back from the night of the attack without knowing too much, trust me.
This book, yall. I read it in a day and a half, could not put it down. It is so full of life; of happiness and sorrow, good experiences and painful ones. It is both funny and heartbreaking. This story rings so true to female friendships and how strong they can make us as women. Even in circumstances I have never, blessedly, found myself in, an intruder attack or a friend losing herself to drugs, I can recognize and understand the love and power that Kate, Anna and George find in each other. They aren’t always happy with one another but they would never leave each other. I absolutely loved this novel.