One of NPR's Best Books of 2017
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
A breathtaking feat of reportage, American Fire combines procedural with love story, redefining American tragedy for our time.
The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolatethere were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning.
The culprit, and the path that led to these crimes, is a story of twenty-first century America. Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse first drove down to the reeling county to cover a hearing for Charlie Smith, a struggling mechanic who upon his capture had promptly pleaded guilty to sixty-seven counts of arson. But as Charlie’s confession unspooled, it got deeper and weirder. He wasn’t lighting fires alone; his crimes were galvanized by a surprising love story. Over a year of investigating, Hesse uncovered the motives of Charlie and his accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick, a woman of steel-like strength and an inscrutable past. Theirs was a love built on impossibly tight budgets and simple pleasures. They were each other’s inspiration and escape…until they weren’t.
Though it’s hard to believe today, one hundred years ago Accomack was the richest rural county in the nation. Slowly it’s been drained of its industryagricultureas well as its wealth and population. In an already remote region, limited employment options offer little in the way of opportunity. A mesmerizing and crucial panorama with nationwide implications, American Fire asks what happens when a community gets left behind. Hesse brings to life the Eastern Shore and its inhabitants, battling a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. The result evokes the soul of rural Americaa land half gutted before the fires even began.
|Publisher:||Liveright Publishing Corporation|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Monica Hesse is a feature writer for the Washington Post. Winner of the Edgar Award and a finalist for a Livingston and James Beard Award, she is also the author of Girl in the Blue Coat. She lives in Washington, DC.
Table of Contents
1 "Charge That Line!" 3
2 "The South Starts Here" 12
3 "Orange in the Sky" 21
4 Charlie 35
5 Monomanie Incendiaire 43
6 Tonya 50
7 "Like A Ghost" 57
8 "Tell Us What You Know about That" 71
9 Charlie and Tonya 82
10 SchröDinger's Evidence 90
11 The Eastern Shore Arsonist Hunters 97
12 "I've seen Enough Ass to Know" 105
13 "Like Hell Was Coming Up Through the Ground" 113
14 Tonya And Charlie 120
15 "They're Not Hunters At All" 127
16 "I didn't Light Them All" 131
17 "Someday they'll go Down Together" 138
18 "Everybody Has A Reason For Why They Do Things in Life" 144
19 "I can't Tell You Something I don't Know" 156
20 "Midnight Without Makeup" 169
21 The Broken Things 173
22 "Time To Wake Up" 185
23 Burned 194
24 "We'd Done It Before" 196
25 "They Came Out Of Everywhere" 215
26 "Moral Turpitude" 225
27 What Happened Next 229
28 "It's over" 236
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Started alittle slow but book overall delightful. Area (Rt13) familiar to me in my travels so book had added meaning. Recommended
I was riveted to this story of fire, firefighting, law and order, and love.
Thoroughly engaging. I couldn't put it down.