The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Book Review)

The Burning AirThe Burning Air by Erin Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was a man named Joe connected with the law office where I worked during my last years in Nevada. Joe was a massive pain in my ass. He started out as a quasi-professional-ish sort-of peer, and his tendency to turn small potatoes into a great big hairy lawsuit-worthy deal quickly led me to loathe him. He had a love of scorched-earth litigation and of Capitalizing Every Damn Thing upon which I heaped scorn equally. He could have been a very competent paralegal but settled for being basically a professional pest, having no job but a sugar mama girlfriend, an orange woman in her sixties who, along with her awful spray-on tan,* affected skin-tight jeans and plunging necklines and teetering heels, overly collagened lips and teased and permed hair and makeup applied with a masonry trowel — fighting aging with every trick she could think of and losing badly. I started out feeling kinda sorry for her but soon grew to loathe her almost as much as I loathed Joe, mostly on principle. Not fair, perhaps, but there you have it.

There’s a point to this. Joe became my key to really enjoying this book. Kelly is a talented writer, but I had a bit of a problem with the motivation for the whole thing. I was like, “Is that it? You nurse your thirst for vengeance and elaborately plot and wreak all this destruction just for that?” Enter Joe of the thin skin and the eternal grudge over nothing, and once I read him into the villain, the whole thing took off. The madness of Darcy’s whole situation wasn’t sufficiently played up unless you, too, know a Joe.

I’m not sure whether I was supposed to sympathize with the MacBride family, but they came off too privileged and insular and smug for my taste. The women are the conspicuous-consumer type of moms who pack picture-book lunches for their kids. And hey, if Mom has the time and the hand-eye coordination and the food budget for organic quinoa and homemade sushi and sandwiches with cartoon character faces then fine, I guess, but that mom also drives a car that costs five times what I make in a year and always has the latest iPhone and somebody in to clean her house three times a week.

MIKI Yoshihito, Flickr/CC. Don’t make my kid feel bad by sending your kid with this.

Yes, I was a single mom who wouldn’t know a tramezzino with ground peanut spread and strawberry reduction if she fell over a PB&J. Yes, I know that everyone has problems and issues, the privileged and the peasants alike, but I also daresay it’s a lot more comfortable crying in an ivory tower. I know I need to work on my compassion a bit, but it remains that I wanted to yank these self-satisfied, better-than-everyone-else women by their perfect blonde ponytails. Perhaps that’s what Kelly intended, how the haves alienate and even anger the have-nots.

All of this sounds really negative, but it’s really just my ruminations. The upshot is, even though I found the underlying premise rather weak and couldn’t stand the protagonists, this is a pull-you-along, well-woven, contorted tale of grudges and deception and revenge and secrets. The writing is very good, with a lot of sentences that catch you up short because they paint the scene so vividly: “There were four of them and one of him, but he had them entirely surrounded.” “The flat was clean and silent and she had the ridiculous notion that no one had broken the news to it.” Like that. The multiple pov’s are well done. A couple of the twists are spectacular in their irony. It would not have done as well for me if I hadn’t had Joe in which to anchor it all, but the page-turning quality and well-crafted writing bump this up to four stars. Feel free to borrow my Joe.

Bookshelves: brit-lit, mystery, psych-thriller, thriller, schadenfreude, plot-twists-and-irony

New words:

Gilet: Light, sleeveless, padded jacket

Pranged: British way of saying wrecked. “The car was pranged.”

*There seems to be an anti-Trump current running through my recent posts. Curious.

View all my reviews


Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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