I really liked House on Fire. It’s about a blended family whose bonds are challenged when Leigh’s 14-year-old daughter Chrissy is killed in a car crash caused by Kip, the 17-year-old son of Leigh’s husband Pete. Kip is arrested for drunk driving, and as the trial date nears, Kip makes the startling claim that Chrissy had been behind the wheel. Kip has a history of lying, so Leigh chalks this up as yet another lie, but Pete wants to believe his son is innocent. And with Leigh’s best friend signed on as Kip’s lawyer and bound by client confidentiality to keep information from Leigh, the tension between husband and wife becomes unbearable.
I loved the family drama, and I think the comparisons to Jodi Picoult and Celeste Ng are spot on. The story was really compelling, and while Leigh, Stephen and Kip are clearly the main characters, I love how the author showed us how the situation impacted other people in their lives, like Leigh’s best friend, Leigh’s twin sons, Kip’s mother, and so on.
I also love how the author showed that there were never any easy decisions. The more facts we learn about the night of the car crash, the more we realize how, whomever was actually behind the wheel at the time, culpability can always be shared. Even in the first few chapters, when see Kip drinking at his friend’s party, we also see him making the responsible decision to spend the night. Ironically, while Chrissy was the victim of the crash, she was also the reason Kip left the party in the first place, because she came to warn him their parents were coming home early and Kip didn’t want her to get into trouble. So, who really was at fault with regard to the accident? Kip, for drinking and going to a party without permission? Chrissy, for causing her brother to leave the party while drunk instead of sleeping it off? Or Leigh and Pete, for coming home early, or perhaps for leaving for the weekend in the first place? Perhaps it’s no one’s fault at all, and I love that the story shows how easy it is to fall into a spiral of blame, and how messy the idea of culpability can get.
I do think the subplots about Leigh’s clients got a bit out of hand, and while I see the thematic link of her friendship with the priest, I wish the book focused more on the main plot. I also wish we’d seen more of the courtroom drama, as the trial only took up the final section of the book. The final section of the book also got a bit too melodramatic for me, and in a bizarre twist, a lot of the melodrama came from subplots related to Leigh’s clients that the author managed to link back to the main plot, but that also felt unnecessary.
Still, overall, this is a good book, and a compelling read.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada and Netgalley for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.