Review: ‘Nothing Left to Burn’ by Jay Varner

by Kim on May 20, 2011 · 4 comments

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Title: Nothing Left to Burn
Author: Jay Varner
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2010
Acquired: Purchased
Rating: ★★★½☆

Summary (from IndieBound):

Nothing Left to Burn eloquently tells the story of a son ‘s relationship with his father, the fire chief and a local hero, and his grandfather, a serial arsonist.

When Jay Varner, fresh out of college, returns home to work for the local newspaper, he knows that he will have to deal with the memories of a childhood haunted by a grandfather who was both menacing and comical and by a father who died too young and who never managed to be the father Jay so desperately needed him to be. In digging into the past, he uncovers layers of secrets, lies, and half-truths. It is only when he finally has the truth in hand that he comes to an understanding of the forces that drove his father, and of the fires that for all his efforts his father could never extinguish.

Review: I read Nothing Left to Burn midway through the Read-a-Thon and know that I enjoyed it, but I’m having a complete brain malfunction trying to talk about it. I was impressed with the way Varner was able to build tension in the story even though at least part of the mystery — his grandfather’s history as an arsonist — is disclosed early in the book. There’s still a strong tension as Varner uncovers the clues and puts together the stories of his past.

I also, oddly, liked how dark the book was. It starts out with stories about Varner and his father that are quite sweet, but by the end Varner has exposed much of the dark underbelly of both his family history and the town the live in. It’s not a flattering portrait, and one I’m sure some of the people Varner wrote about weren’t happy about, but it feels honest and kept me intrigued until the end.

Nothing Left to Burn is a solid memoir and a book I’m glad I read. It’s one I’ll be recommending to people who like memoirs that have to do with fathers and sons, life in a small town, or young newspaper reporters, but it’s not one that goes on my “OMG Life-Changing Book!” list. But you know what? That’s ok — not every book needs to do that to be one that’s worth reading.

Other Reviews: The Book Lady’s Blog | Bermudaonion’s Weblog | Book Dads |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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