!!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!SPOILERS!!!!YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE ANYWAY!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!
Author Antosca was 23 years old when Fires—his debut novel—was first offered to the public. He had just graduated from Yale University. A decade later, he is living in Los Angeles and writing produced screenplays, with—it appears—his literary considerations dropping from gold to silver medal standing(1). I give this brief history because a major bulk of Fires takes place at Yale, with the 1st-person protagonist as a loose-ended student.
Jon Danfield is a failing student at Yale. He worries a lot about being alone. He meets a girl named Ruth in a lecture class. They get together. Ruth likes rough sex—although there are no scenes or explicit dialogue to research—and Jon obsesses over who was her last slugger. Turns out, Jon went to High School with him in a burg of Maryland called Bondurant. And James Dearborn was the poster boy of High School fandom: handsome, a babe magnet, starting quarterback his freshman year, etc. Problem was he was molested by this football coach along with a lot of other boys—one being held in the coach's cellar for 8 years—and presently Coach Mursey has been pants by local authorities and is currently missing. Another problem is that James is a far more interesting character than the one we're saddled with. But, wouldn't you know it, he's the cipher of the story and it's already obvious why.
Jon flies into a jealous rage over James' punching bag work on Ruth's neck and breasts, but what can he do? James could drop him in his sleep, later proven when he laughingly makes Jon's hand feel like a "glove full of tomato pulp"(p.135) in an arm wrestling contest. So, Jon calls Ruth a bunch of names and leaves with no place to go. He wants to go back home, presumably for sniffles in his old kid's room with a teddy bear while Mom brings him chicken noodle soup. But, there's a whopper of a fire in the Appalachians, and the suburban housing tract of Jon's family home is in its path.
Fortunately, James also wants to go back to Bondurant to get some things out of the child-molesting coach's house before the police rummage through. So, Jon and James become friends—bonding 'cause they flailed and fucked the same girl, I guess; they sure weren't friends before—and take the train back home.
The last 1/3 of the novel happens in the evacuated town; however, there's a credibility problem. Author Antosca needs some time for interactive plot development featuring the boys' discoveries, both internally and externally. The fire is a really cool ticking clock, but he makes it move like molasses. The housing tract would burn down—which it does—or be put out in the time he's allotted it.
But, the best stuff in the novel happens here. Unfortunately, James is soused and stoned all the time and rarely seen, as he is banging around the neighborhood breaking into peoples' houses and other mischiefs. This new world of smoke and ash and danger is well described and eerie. They pop the police tape on the coach's pad. There's a cellar with a secret room. There's an upstairs with rooms of questionable purpose. There's James' confession of his abuses, including attempted suicide. And then there's that bullet James puts into Jon's head. A fireman rescues Jon semi-conscious in a swimming pool. Ruth visits Jon in the hospital and holds his hand. James is being sought after but not found. The coach never makes an appearance.
Why did I keep turning pages on this freshman offering? Admittedly, the writing style is addictive. Paragraphs are filled with metaphors and similes. They fit and are clever at times. There's just too many of them. The protagonist worries way too much and his inner dialogues become very repetitious, but he is well drawn and believable. I think the main problem is that Fires is too verbose. There is way too much filler. I don't care what kind of sandwich Jon makes. Open the book randomly and start reading. You'll see what I mean.
Try the section where James tells Jon he saw him coming out the the coach's house back in the day. Decide if the foreshadowing is justified when nothing further is developed, as Jon scuffs it off as backbiting on James' part. There's a lot of things Jon has forgotten about, and one of them is why he is so enturbulated about being alone.
1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Antosca. I do not consider screenplays literature because it is a step in process for another medium. And, sure, it's far closer to prose than poetry, granted.