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Review: Nothing Left to Burn

October 14, 2010

When Jay Varner was growing up in central Pennsylvania, it seemed like his father was never around.  When he wasn’t working at his day job, he was occupied by his job as the Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department.   Occupied is really not a strong enough word – his father was obsessed with the Fire Department; so much so that young Jay strongly felt his absence.

Jay’s paternal grandfather was obsessed with fire, too – but in a different way.  He loved to set them.  After burning down several buildings, he seemed to be satisfied with coming to Jay’s house (Jay’s family lived on land he owned) to set blazes – he would burn anything and everything he could get hold of.

After graduating from college, Jay returned home, got a job at the local paper covering the police and fire beat and finds that he too feels a rush when the scanner goes off.  He can’t help but reflect on the connection between the men in his family.  When he seeks an answer, he learns a disturbing secret that few people know.

Jay Varner’s memoir, Nothing Left to Burn is an amazing story of family, obsession, and dangerous secrets.  Gut wrenching and  honest, Varner freely bares his soul in this compelling story.  My heart broke for the young boy longing for his father’s attention and presence, but a small part of me could understand why his father felt the need to do what he did – it was his way of righting his father’s wrongs.

Varner’s grandparents were complete opposites – one set was kind and loving and the other was frightening and, well, a little twisted.  I can’t imagine growing up like that – it had to be scary and confusing.  His mother is a sweet, considerate woman, and it was obvious that she truly loved his father, but I have to tell you that she is much more tolerant than I am!

Nothing Left to Burn is a fascinating exploration of family and what connects us and holds us together.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and expect we’ll see a lot more of Varner’s work in the future – this is not just for those who enjoy memoirs; it’s for anyone who enjoys reading about family dynamics.

Review copy provided by Algonquin Books.  I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
23 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2010 6:56 am

    I’m intrigued. Rebecca also did a review and guest post of the author, and wasn’t he at SIBA too? Puts a new twist on the typical memoir!

  2. October 14, 2010 7:44 am

    Keep hearing good things about this one. Glad to see that you liked it as well. It sounds like it has everything a good memoir should: interesting and touching.

  3. stacybuckeye permalink
    October 14, 2010 9:03 am

    This looks really good. I’ve read more memoirs than usual this year an I like the family history aspect of this one.

  4. October 14, 2010 9:21 am

    This didn’t sound like a memoir to me – father, grandfather and son all obsessed by the fire but in different ways – that should make really interesting reading esp since this is a memoir too.

  5. October 14, 2010 9:25 am

    Wow, what an interesting premise. I hadn’t heard of this before!

  6. October 14, 2010 9:27 am

    Sounds like a page-turner, even for a memoir. I initially thought it was fiction. Great review!

  7. October 14, 2010 9:39 am

    When we got the chance to hear him read, and he read that little bit about his grandfather starting fires in the back yard with all the bits of refuse, it really got me excited about this book. I can’t imagine being related to both a fireman and a firebug, and it seems like this story really explores both of these relationships really well. I am so curious to start this one, and am hoping that I like it as much as you did, Kathy!

  8. October 14, 2010 10:08 am

    Hi Kathy, I definitely enjoy reading about family dynamics so this one is good for me! Thanks for the great review, as always.

  9. October 14, 2010 1:45 pm

    I know so little about obsession with fire, although I live in Southern CA where fires are a serious threat to people. Great review and video, Kathy.

  10. October 14, 2010 1:52 pm

    This actually really sounds like a very engaging memoir! Definitely will give a go if I have the chance to read it soon =)

  11. October 14, 2010 4:12 pm

    Nice review.
    Bit this is one book I might just pass on, or I am just in one of those days where everything is just blah

  12. October 14, 2010 5:34 pm

    This is the first I’ve heard and read about this book, Kathy. It sounds quite good, very sad in some parts and really interesting. How confused the author must have been when he was a young boy with a grandfather who set fires & a dad who put them out. Wow!
    I’ll never cease to be fascinated by family dynamics.

    Thanks for your great review. I’d very much like to read this book so I’m going to keep an eye out for it next time I’m book shopping!
    ~ Amy

  13. October 14, 2010 7:20 pm

    This sound soooo good. That’s all 🙂

  14. October 14, 2010 7:36 pm

    This sounds like a terrific memoir!

  15. October 14, 2010 9:09 pm

    I had not heard of this before so thank you for the review. Sounds such an interesting saga.

  16. October 14, 2010 10:30 pm

    your review is fantastic and i’m finding more and more that truth is much stranger than fiction…

    i like the word you used ‘twisted’…how else can a family like that be described succinctly yet accurately?!? and don’t we all vow to do better than our parents? to right their wrongs? wow, so much guilt and pressure the father must have had weighing on him and then the secrets the son must have discovered….ooooh, i cannot wait to read this one!

  17. October 15, 2010 4:42 pm

    This one sounds like one that I must read!

  18. October 15, 2010 4:53 pm

    I wasn’t expecting you to say it was a memoir..totally sounded like a good fiction book to me. haha!
    Sounds like it’s worth a read, I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.

  19. October 15, 2010 7:45 pm

    Looks like you discovered a great new author. I like stories of family dynamics too.

  20. October 15, 2010 7:45 pm

    When I first saw the title I thought it was a fiction, imagine my surprise as I realized that this was a memoir. The ironic reality of “fire” in his family just seared this family’s history.

    The ties that bind can also burn and fuel the blood lines inherited by some, refuted by others.

    Another great review and noting this one also.

  21. October 19, 2010 10:50 am

    I’m not a big reader of memoirs, but I’m curious about this one!

  22. October 23, 2010 1:26 am

    Wow, that sounds like an amazing true life story. You have made it a must read for me.

  23. November 4, 2010 4:34 pm

    Wow, this sounds like a powerful read.

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