cover image How to Set Yourself on Fire

How to Set Yourself on Fire

Julia Dixon Evans. Dzanc (PGW, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-945814-50-1

Evans’s offbeat and winning debut is a family mystery, a much-delayed bildungsroman, and the story of a surprisingly touching friendship between a 35-year-old woman and her 12-year-old neighbor, whose father she happens to be sleeping with. Sheila’s life is stagnant: she hasn’t held down a job, not even a temp job, in three years; she’s obsessed with a UPS carrier and the love letter he accidentally dropped in front of her; she constantly gets nosebleeds; and her father left her and her mother when she was 11, an abandonment she hasn’t gotten over. Sheila’s daddy issues are plentiful and garden-variety, but her emotional arc and eventual reconciliation with her mother shine. When Sheila’s grandmother dies, Sheila finds among her belongings a shoebox containing letters from a man named Harold, who is not her grandfather and yet professes his love for Sheila’s grandmother with increasing ardor. This discovery coincides with Sheila meeting Torrey, the 12-year-old daughter of Sheila’s neighbor Vinnie, who has just lost her mom in a skydiving accident. Torrey, who becomes obsessed with the letters and also becomes something of a fairy godmother to Sheila, urges her to find Harold, pushing Sheila to her eventual, reluctant transformation. Torrey is a little too clever, but it’s impossible not to be charmed by her and Sheila’s relationship. [em]Agent: Monika Woods, Curtis Brown. (May) [/em]