cover image The Firebug of Balrog County

The Firebug of Balrog County

David Oppegaard. Llewellyn/Flux, $11.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4543-5

Oppegaard (And the Hills Opened Up) creates a believable portrayal of the different ways that loss affects a family, with small decisions building into far-reaching consequences. High school senior Mack Druneswald has been drifting since his mother’s death, working at the hardware store in his small town of Hickson and periodically feeding the “firebug” in his heart with non-targeted acts of arson. The narrative moves between Mack’s present life and his retelling of his mother’s five-year struggle with cancer, drawing subtle but strong parallels between Mack’s pyromania and his mother’s disease. While Mack and his family work through their grief, he runs more risks: involving his new girlfriend in his activities, writing anonymous letters to the newspaper claiming responsibility for the fires, and targeting the local curmudgeon’s property. As the cat-and-mouse game between Mack, as arsonist, and the mayor, his grandfather, escalates, so do the tensions between Mack, as family member, and his father and sister. A well-realized setting and Oppegaard’s resistance to tidily resolving the story’s conflicts both contribute to the novel’s solid sense of realism. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jonathan Lyons, Curtis Brown. (Sept.)