Sunday, August 2, 2015

Staff Review: How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

A lot was riding on how I felt about How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz. Lutz is one of my favorite authors and wrote my favorite series ever, The Spellman Books, which follows a family of private investigators who investigate each other about as much as they investigate suspects. She wrote that series' final book, The Last Word, in 2013 and I was sad that it was all over. So sad, I actually wrote a sonnet.
Shall I compare thee to another series?
Thou art more beloved by me than most books.
Why this is so I have several theories
And forever in me you have your hooks.
Thou art far more witty and have more heart
Than so many books before you I've read.
You are wacky, wonderful, you are smart.
Reaching the end of you I do so dread.
Lisa Lutz, your author, is wise, 'tis true.
Relationships and family struggles,
Love, grief, regret, hilarity make you
Enthralling for some books full of Muggles.
You are dear to me, Spellman family.
Devoted to you, I will always be.
Clearly, I was broken-hearted. 
I knew Lutz hadn't retired from writing and that her new book would come out eventually, but I was so enamored with the Spellmans that I was nervous about reading it. What if the characters weren't as charming and real as the Spellmans? What if I didn't like it and all I would have left of my Lutz love were books I'd already read and no expectation of future happiness? (I can be very dramatic when it comes to my books.)
After reading the Spellman Books, I knew Lutz's voice very well and as I read the first page of How to Start a Fire, my fears disappeared. This story follows three women, Anna, Kate, and George, for twenty years, starting from their meeting in college. In the hands of another author, I might not have wanted to read this book. A tale of friendship that includes marriages, divorces, affairs, addictions, and a big secret that changes the characters' lives seems all too familiar, but Lutz's sharp, accurate, and darkly funny writing make Anna, Kate, and George stand out when they could have been boring stereotypes.
Look at these three snippets. A lesser author could have made these simple and dull, but Lutz's writing makes them crackle.
Anna understood the customs of these events: a polite question was asked, and a polite answer was provided. She also knew that honesty was often the most direct path to ending a conversation. 
"Do you have a name?" he asked."Doesn't everyone?" she said.
"I'm not asking for your phone number or even a last name. Just give me something to call you," he said.
"I'm Kate," Anna said.
She smiled at her little joke. Miles thought the smile was for him. She had done this before, given Kate's name. She did it because she was doing something Kate would never do.
"A pleasure meeting you, Kate."
"Is it?
"She's incapable of having a normal conversation. I asked if she had any brothers or sisters. She said, 'Yes.' That's all. I asked her what she did for fun. She said, 'Not work.' I asked her what she'd done before coming to Blackman and Blackman, and she said, 'Something completely different.' I even made the mistake of inquiring about the scar on her forehead. It's not like she tries to hide it or anything. Told me she got it in a prison knife fight. Sometimes her only response to a question is 'I don't plan to answer that.'"
The heart, wit, and realness of the characters in her previous books are present in her latest. I no longer have the Spellman family to follow, but because they were a part of Lutz's imagination and immense talent, I haven't really lost anything; I've gained the anticipation of anything she writes. After reading How to Start a Fire, I will no longer fear to read anything new by her.
~Aisha, Adult Services

The Spellman Books

Other books by Lisa Lutz
Heads You Lose, co-written with David Hayward
A brother and sister pot-growing team finds the headless corpse of the sister's ex-fiancé on their property and must figure out why and how to get rid of it. Repeatedly, because after they move the body, it shows up again. Lutz and Hayward agreed to write alternating chapters without discussing what they were working on and would not undo plot written by the other. At the end of each chapter are notes written from Lutz to Hayward and Hayward to Lutz. This adds even more humor and suspense to an already funny mystery.

How to Negotiate Everything written by David Spellman with Lisa Lutz and illustrated by Jamie Temairik
In Trail of the Spellmans, David Spellman writes a book for his younger sister, teaching her how to negotiate. This is the fully realized version of that book.

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