Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alan Siporin: Fire's Edge

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
November 16, 2008

Hannah is a middle-aged white school teacher, who happens to be Jewish. Fil is some sort of investigative researcher, who happens to be black. Billy (“The Kid”) is a teenager, a Nazi skinhead who hates everyone, including his friends. These three meet by chance in a Portland, Oregon courthouse, and the encounter would have led to violence if there weren’t so many police around. The story line, such as it is, develops in Portland and moves to the Cascade foothills of southern Oregon. But Fire’s Edge is less a story than a book about hate crime and its perpetrators and victims.

And that made it hard to read. Every time I turned a page, I was worried something awful was going to happen. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t.

The book paints an ugly picture of the living conditions and attitudes of a class of people who have very little in life beyond an automatic hatred for everyone who isn’t just like themselves. Animosity and violence could erupt from any encounter—no matter how trivial and innocent. Billy is one scary kid, with no ability to control his emotions, and with a street fighting capacity greater than most of the tough adults in his world.

Hannah, on the other hand, is a good middle class citizen, a good schoolteacher, and a lover of the outdoors. Oregon suits her. Fil is a Eugene counter-culture sort of guy who is investigating Nazi hate groups and their activities. These are nice people, but how will they fare as the story line moves to rural Oregon?

Well, things happen, good and bad. I’m not sure what Siporin had in mind with his choice of “Fire’s Edge” for a title, but to me it fits. These people and their friends are unintentionally living on an edge. Some are leading comfortable and constructive lives, and some are leading pretty bad lives, but things can change for any of them without much warning. That edge tension made this book unsettling and hard for me to read.

Why, then, did I read it? Alan Siporin is another of the authors I met a year ago at the Eugene Library Authors and Artists benefit fair. We chatted about the problems of hate crime in the Pacific Northwest, and I bought the book. I felt I should learn more about this aspect of the community I live in. Thank goodness it doesn’t seem to come too close to home. We have quite a variety of types of neighbors in our rural Oregon locale, but every one of them seems pretty friendly. I’m not too worried. But I’m not black, Jewish, gay, disabled, female, elderly, or foreign in any way. And I’ve got a shotgun, assault rifle, and three handguns stashed around the house. (At least that’s what I hope the bad guys think.)

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