HOUSE ON FIRE by Bonnie Kistler

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Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett and Pete Conley are in every sense a very happy married couple. Both have been married previously and divorced. Like many marriages that break up they have come to a settlement as to which of their children will live with them, and which will reside with the other couples formed by unions formed by their prior spouses. Leigh’s experiences handling divorces and witnessing remarriages has led her to the conclusion that a majority of these pairings also end in divorce. But somehow she and Pete are happy together.

Tragedy strikes without warning while Leigh and Pete are away on vacation. An auto accident occurs when Kip, left in charge, and who is Pete’s son and Chrissy, Leigh’s daughter were driving together to a party in celebration of Kip’s acceptance to Duke University. Their car runs off the road when swerving to avoid a collision. Kip escapes with minor injuries but Chrissy dies, due to a physical problem that is exacerbated by her hitting her head on the roof of the car due to the impact. Kip was driving, and accepts fault for the accident with everyone concerned being of the opinion that it was just that an accident.

The emotions experienced by Leigh and Pete are handled magnificently by Kistler. Both children are technically in the same family, but Chrissy was Leigh’s daughter with Kip Pete’s son. The anguish experienced by all is naturally more so towards their natural children. Suddenly a complication occurs when the state decides to bring Kip to justice trying him in court on a second degree manslaughter charge. The circumstances include Kip just turning 18; an adult in the eyes of the law which allows him to to be prosecuted in adult court. If found guilty he could be faced with up to 10 years of imprisonment in an adult prison.

The interplay of the extended family’s emotions becomes the driving force behind the action taking place. To indicate that it becomes impossible to put the book down does not do justice to the force of the writing. A very well done novel describing a terribly wrenching experience and obviously one that causes rifts and breakups between the characters does cause the reader to await Kistler’s next novel with a great deal of expectation.

3/19 Paul Lane

HOUSE ON FIRE by Bonnie Kistler. Atria Books (March 12, 2019). ISBN 978-1501198687. 416p.

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