The Arsonists

by Treehouse Editors

Caleb Andrew Ward

Review of Fires of Our Choosing: Stories by Eugene Cross
Dzanc Books
April 2012

Eugene Cross’ collection of twelve short stories is rightly named Fires of our Choosing for fiery images that burn into the reader’s mind with each story. In this collection Cross sets his sights on blue-collar America, with several pieces set in his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. “The Brother” tells the story of a young business owner whose girlfriend’s brother starts working for him in order to keep himself out of prison. “I knew what it was like to look at the people around you and mistake their fear for envy, their pity for admiration,” says the business owner in reference to his new employee and his off-putting behavior. Luke, the brother, arrives high, and spends his days smoking cigarettes and watching our protagonist do the majority of work. His lack of dialogue is made up for with his accented actions, most notably in the climactic ending, which involves a home invasion.

In “Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean,” a young boy, Marty Hanson, deals with the loss of his father, his brother leaving home, and the repercussions of a brutal assault he commits on a fellow student. Following the beating, Marty ends up in a group therapy session for violent young people. One exercise the group undergoes is a trust fall in which Marty internally battles with the ability to trust anyone, even the cute girl in therapy with him. Soon Marty finds himself at the home of the student he viciously beat, and finds his victim to be just as confused with the world as he is.

Cross has the ability to change point of view from story to story fluidly. Each phrase of dialogue sounds so natural you begin to believe you have spoken these very words years ago. But despite the fluidity of execution, Fires of Our Choosing brings on the dark realization that much of life is chaotic.

In the title story, the college dropout narrator starts with, “When Lenny’s house burned to the ground all I kept thinking was that it was just one more piece of bad luck in a life that had been full of it.” Lenny is a fine example of Cross’ archetypal character. Besides being solitary and relatively uneducated, Lenny brings about his own ruin, but much of the story revolves around him taking revenge out on an innocent bystander. Cross’ characters tend to be established agents of their own chaos.

While the author has perfected the formula for destruction, beneath it there is a bit of hope. His characters end up in quagmires of their own making, but there is a glimmer of optimism underlying the bedrock. With this being Cross’ debut collection, I am greatly anticipating what’s to come.