Is there such a thing as a safe family secret, one that stays hidden and does no harm? Or does the unconscious knowledge of it permeate and ruin a family? On a fall day in the Florida woods, Vivien Fenton makes a decision that will forever change her family. But what she does to save her young daughters, Elin and Kate, does something far worse. An action that can’t be taken back becomes the dark and angry secret no one can confront, even as it works itself to the surface of their lives.
Things We Set on Fire is a great story about a mother who believes she is doing the right thing, but can’t see its impact until close to twenty years later. By then, Elin and Kate have grown and left their mother, motivated by a need to flee. But a call in the night pulls Vivvie back into their lives. Anger and resentment simmer on the side as the women try to make sense of new events that will change them yet again.
Although Reed’s story is about secrets, it is also about love, marriage, sibling survival and the potential for forgiveness. In telling, Reed creates a momentum by introducing events and characters in interesting small pieces, then cycling back to fill in the details. Written in an easy style, it’s the kind of book you can read quickly, but if you like understanding characters, you will miss important details if you do.
In the end, Reed’s characters understand that they must move in their own directions, creating loose but hopeful family ties. I recommend Things We Set on Fire to anyone who enjoys reading about family relationships and how they change over time.
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