Rene Steinke takes a volatile subject and turns it into a powerful message of emotional courage and personal strength in The Fires. Sensing that her life has spun out of control, protagonist Ella's fragile sense of self is defined by the unpredictable and dangerous rush she feels when setting fires, normal human emotions unavailable to her.
As a child, Ella becomes increasingly powerless, only aware of the intensity of her emotions when in proximity to the roaring voice and cleansing heat of flames. As a young woman, her personal disintegration leads inevitably to drunken liaisons with strangers, promiscuity and self-mutilation, further shredding her minimal self-worth.
Surrounded by family secrets, covered with burn scars, Ella would be a pathetic creature in lesser hands. But Steinke's Ella is a survivor, and the author gives her the courage to confront her painfully distorted life. In reality, it is the inner scars that drive Ella's self-destructive behavior; she can live with those that map her flesh.
It takes consummate skill to propel a story through the difficult stages of renewal and redemption, without resorting to facile techniques or easy solutions. This writer, in lyrical and visual prose, creates a heroine worthy of notice, deserving of respect, a valuable contribution to our world.