WORKING FIRE: A Memoir
Release date: 03/01/2004
Expanding on a Slate diary he wrote in 2001, Unger delivers a crisply written, somewhat gripping narrative of a rookie's life in the Oakland Fire Department. If the firefighter's memoir has lately become a new genre, this is a solid introduction from a complete outsider who ably describes the journey to grizzled insider. When Unger, an Ivy League grad and eager outdoorsman, answered a job ad he saw at an Oakland bus stop, he had little inkling that he'd found his vocation. Firefighting was a job he knew little about, and applying seemed a lark (he writes that he couldn't imagine being the first person in his family not to get a Master's degree). But he was accepted into the training program, and it wasn't until he found himself among dozens of other recruits outside "the tower" (the department's training facility) that he realized he might be on his way to becoming a fireman. What follows is a journey through both the minutiae and adventure of a rookie firefighter's life, from the complex ritual of dinner at the firehouse and the letdown of false alarms to the danger and heat of a real fire. A readable account of Unger's first years on the job, the book is occasionally repetitive and meandering. Still, Unger's self-deprecation is endearing, as when he writes, "Whoever said that a man in uniform always looks good hasn't spent much time looking at me." (Mar.)
Forecast: A five-city author tour, pre-pub bookseller events and advance praise from Ted Conover could spark sales.