🔥“I used to dream of her smile–the way, I imagine, bottom-feeding fish must dream of the long dark funnel of a shark’s throat.” 🔥
So, immediately snapped up this book as fast as I could on NetGalley because Krysten Ritter is my spirit animal, and everything she touches is gold. When her cult classic TV show The B in Apartment 23 wasn’t renewed, I wept actual tears. Hot tears. I miss James Van Der Beek playing James Van Der Beek more than I miss certain dead relatives of mine. But anyway, in keeping with her gold standard, her first novel doesn’t disappoint, though it does fall into some of the predictable pitfalls of debut writers attempting to stretch a plot too far.
I was immediately taken with Abby Williams, a young environmental lawyer returning to Barrens, her small hometown, to investigate allegations of misconduct by the corrupt corporation Optimal. Abby’s convinced there’s more to the story than a water contamination cover-up greased by deep pockets and corrupt small town politics. When she reflects on her time growing up in Barrens, Abby lingers on memories of Kaycee, her beautiful, popular, vicious best friend, who deliberately feigned a miserable illness to ride the attention. But was she really faking it? Abby doesn’t think so. She’s determined to find out what really happened to her former frenemy, especially since no one has heard from Kaycee since graduation– people don’t just disappear anymore. Unless they’re made to disappear.
So my initial thought on Bonfire was that the writing felt natural and welcoming. It flowed authentically, which made reading the book a breeze. I whipped through it effortlessly. The characters felt real and interesting, the perfect blend of small town–open yet suspicious, forthcoming yet fiercely secretive. My favorite scenes in the novel depict Abby as a capable, confident lawyer, aggressively and persistently chasing her mission. I would have been happy if the novel were just about this environmental lawyer bringing down a corrupt company and solving a murder, the end. I have a super not-weird obsession with the movie Erin Brockovich, and most of this novel gave me that good feeling the movie gives me—a story about the strength of the individual over the corporate, how heroic tenacity is found in ordinary people, how one David battling one Goliath can make all the difference in the world for those people who can’t battle for themselves. I love that story, and this is that story.
But unfortunately there is always a twist and turn in the last chapter that explains the mysterious whodunit leading up to the finale. And those explanations are rarely as satisfying as the mystery itself. Was Kaycee faking it? Or was she poisoned by Optimal? Or was it something else entirely? That particular question is answered, but the answer is so unsatisfying to me. That whole explanation felt weak, stretched thin, a vague attempt at motive.
Never let the last chapter define the whole journey, though. Bonfire is a strong work, and I’m looking forward to Krysten Ritter’s writing career, just as much as I am to further seasons of Jessica Jones.
“Can you love someone who isn’t capable of loving you back?”<b
h, sure,” I say… “I think that’s probably the realest love of all.”
“I’m sorry. For her daughter, for her job, for that sophomore behind the dumpsters, men who get to do anything they want, and the people who are taken advantage of. Because isn’t that, ultimately, what the case comes down to? There are the people of the world who squeeze and the ones who suffocate.”