If We Caught Fire burns brightly with the story of a Newfoundland family wedding
Edie survived a turbulent childhood. Her philandering father left her long-suffering mother for another woman, and Edie — she feels — for another, more fun, (step)daughter. Forced to take care of her placid, if scatter-brained mother, Edie grows into a young woman with a strong need for order and control. She is happy with her single life and her job working for the local come-from-away veterinarian. She has no desire to make more of herself despite her boss’s encouragement to spread her wings.
When her mother suddenly announces her engagement to a man she met online and throws Edie together with Harlow, her free-spirited, soon-to-be-step-brother, things take a turn Edie could never have imagined. One chaotic summer leaves Edie’s tidy life upturned.
Overflowing with an abundance of well-rounded characters — Max, Edie’s much younger half-brother steals the show — If We Caught Fire by Beth Ryan is a lovely portrait of life in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is a bit of a slow burn: it took much longer than I expected to get to the wedding that is central to the description, and I was not immediately grabbed by the story.
However, I was, eventually, drawn to the people and their ordinary but compelling lives. Edie’s mother only seems naïve and meek. Her step-mother, Trina, is not completely the evil home-wrecker she appears to be. Harlow, everyone’s new best friend, has dark secrets of his own.
I’ll admit, I personally dislike the use of present tense for novels, and no punctuation for dialogue is a bit tiresome and often jolts me out of the story. Fortunately, this is a beautifully written book, so I was able to get past it and fall into Ryan’s eloquent and evocative prose.
And while the ending was abrupt and unexpected — I kept checking to see if I’d missed a chapter — it is a testament to Ryan’s mastery in creating sympathetic characters, even the ones you are meant to dislike, that I was left wanting more of these people who are the heart and soul of this book.