The Fire Gospels

Mike Magnuson, Author
Mike Magnuson, Author HarperCollins $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-017595-5
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-06-093010-3
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Magnuson's strengths lie in his appealingly average characters and his ear for the easy speech rhythms of middle America. His enjoyable second novel (after The Right Man for the Job, 1997) once again features a talented but underachieving regular guy, a typical sort whom circumstances force into atypical actions. Grady McCann, a bright but unmotivated maintenance man, likes to spend his after-work hours drinking in his local bar, the Liquid Forest. Unfortunately, Grady's hometown of McCutcheon, Wis., is suffering a season-long drought, and the oppressive sun has driven the folks in the Liquid Forest--and all over McCutcheon County--into a state of near panic. For relief from the drought, the townspeople have put their faith in the local weatherman, Lucky Littlefield, whom Grady considers a sanctimonious fake--and whom he suspects of sleeping with his wife, who's Lucky's assistant at the TV station. Like the archetypal rainmaker, Lucky, who wears Hawaiian shirts and encourages his audience to pray for precipitation, has ridden the drought to celebrity status. But when a strange meteorological phenomenon sparks a countywide forest fire, Grady, Lucky and all of McCutcheon find themselves fighting just to survive. The cataclysmic, almost biblical fire that occupies the novel's second half brings out the truest nature of Magnuson's cast. At times, however, it devours towns too quickly (is the entire state of Wisconsin devoid of disaster planning?) and draws the focus away from the small interactions that make McCutcheon so vivid. Magnuson's writing is strongest when he shows characters trying to go about their everyday lives--drinking, going to work, trying to get along--and the quiet moments in this book remain the most revealing. (June)
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