The basics: Told in a non-chronological narrative, How to Start a Fire is the story of friendship of Kate, Anna, and Georgiana. It stretches from their college days at UC-Santa Cruz in the early 1990's to 2015.
My thoughts: At first I feared a non-chronological (and largely non-linear) narrative would be a challenge to listen to on audio. A quick glance at the table of contents gave me pause, but I'm so glad I opted for this one on audio. Tavia Gilbert gave each character a distinctive voice. At times I forgot there was only one narrator, as she excelled at this cast of voices. As I often listen to audios in short spurts while driving, I didn't always remember exactly what year and city I left off, but I was able to immediately get back into the story. The longer I listened, the more I learned about the timelines and geographies of the three friends, and I was able to fix the larger stories of their life quite well.
How to Start a Fire excels in two main ways, First, Anna, Kate, and George are each fascinating. Second, their friendship is complicated, loving, and authentic. It's somewhat mysterious, and I admit to jumping to the wrong conclusions more than once. Because we see the after before the middle, it was fascinating to guess the whys and hows. While this structure made the book fun to read and kept me guessing, it also made the ending feel like not quite enough. In a book with so many surprises, I wanted one more revelation in the final chapter. Sometimes when I'm listening to audiobooks, the ending feels abrupt. I'm not usually looking at how many pages (or what percent of the book) I have left. And the ending to How to Start a Fire felt especially abrupt. Despite the non-linear narrative, I was still expecting something to tie things together more at the finite end. While I quite enjoyed the experience of listening to this book, I'm left unsure of what I think of it as a whole, largely because of my disaffection for the ending.
The verdict: How to Start a Fire is an engaging and mysterious tale of friendship. Although I wanted one more revelation in the final chapter, the listening experience was a great one.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 53 minutes (352 pages)
Publication date: May 12, 2015
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