I pre-ordered Fire Sermon after reading Nick Ripatrazone’s interview with Jamie Quatro at LitHub. I’d read Quatro’s short stories after meeting her at Sewanee several years ago and loved her intensely honest writing about running, love, and faith.
The writing in Fire Sermon is similarly intense, but because it’s a novel (even though it’s non-linear and narrated through journal entries, letters, sermons) I felt a little claustrophobic with the intimacy of the language and the story itself. I loved the structure, though, and felt English-teacher-affirmation when I saw the acknowledgement of Virginia Woolf’s influence. There are chapters that describe Maggie and Thomas’s house aging in a way that reminded me so much of To the Lighthouse.
The concept of passion (even adulterous passion) being spiritual was fascinating, strange, and uncomfortable to consider, but I’m trying to read more things that make me uncomfortable (intellectually, emotionally, maybe even politically).
I didn’t know anything about Jesmyn Ward’s novel except that it won the National Book Award. I’d heard her read parts of Salvage the Bones (which also won the National Book Award) on NPR and really liked both the writing and the interview with her that preceded it.
If I were still teaching, I’d be asking for a class set of Sing, Unburied, Sing and trying to figure a way to pair it with As I Lay Dying and/or Beloved. The writing was so, so good. I find haunting and ghosts endlessly fascinating both metaphorically in literature and in a more literal way. I’m trying to read fiction with a mind toward revising my own novel (which, like Ward’s novel is told through multiple perspectives). I read ravenously and urgently because there was something at stake (I was really worried about a toddler girl’s health, but there are also other long-term disasters looming on the horizon). I read so fast that I know I missed some of what Ward was doing with allusion, song, history, and language.