Jean Thompson, “Fire Dreams”

booksA woman lives alone in a neighborhood of families.

(from Who Do You Love)

We’re eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in bed. Peanut butter and jelly is all we could find in the kitchen. The television is on and we’re hitting the remote switch: talk shows, baseball, Japanese science fiction. I like Clark better with his clothes off. The pattern of white and sunburn reminds me of the pattern in his lawn.

“I hope the siren doesn’t start,” I say. “I hope you don’t have to jump up and go fight a fire.”

“I don’t care. Everything can burn down.”

I’m obsessed with Thompson right now, who is prolific and talented and not nearly well known enough. I particularly like the way she writes about single women. As a divorced woman in her thirties, I know all too well what it’s like to have nothing in the house but peanut butter and jelly, to be considered “suspect.” Thompson’s writing is precise and surprising. In one paragraph, she can have a character talking to a married neighborhood man on her porch and, a few paragraphs later, without any explanation, we find them in bed. Somehow she makes this work. It’s hard to get away with stuff like this in fiction–readers want to know why, what happened–but Thompson gives us that with very little. This story feels like an entire world, a novel in a short story, which, for me, is the best kind. You should really buy this collection.

“Fire Dreams” was originally published in The New Yorker. If you’re a subscriber, you can read it free online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>