If We Caught Fire by Beth Ryan

Edie survived a turbulent childhood. Her philandering father left both her long-suffering mother for another woman and Edie – she feels – for another, more fun, (step)daughter. Forced to care for her calm, scatter-brained mother, Edie grows into a young woman with a strong need for order and control. She is happy with her single life and her job working for the local come-from-away Veterinarian. She has no desire to make more of herself despite her boss’s encouragement to spread her wings. When her mother suddenly announces her engagement to a man she met online and throws Edie together with Harlow, her free-spirited, soon-to-be-step-brother, things take a turn Edie could never have imagined. One chaotic summer leaves Edie’s tidy life upturned.

If We Caught Fire by Beth Ryan is a lovely portrait of life in St. John’s, Newfoundland.”

Overflowing with an abundance of well-rounded characters – Max, Edie’s much younger half-brother steals the show – If We Caught Fire by Beth Ryan is a lovely portrait of life in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is a bit of a slow burn: it took much longer than I expected to get to the wedding that is central to the description, and I was not immediately grabbed by the story. However, I was, eventually, drawn to the people and their ordinary but compelling lives. Edie’s mother only seems naïve and meek. Her stepmother, Trina, is not completely the evil home-wrecker she appears to be. Harlow, everyone’s new best friend, has dark secrets of his own.

I’ll admit, I dislike using present tense for novels, and no punctuation for dialogue is a bit tiresome and often jolts me out of the story. Fortunately, this is a beautifully written book, so I was able to get past it and fall into Ryan’s eloquent and evocative prose. And while the ending was abrupt and unexpected – I kept checking to see if I’d missed a chapter – it is a testament to Ryan’s mastery in creating sympathetic characters, even the ones you are meant to dislike, that I was left wanting more of these people who are the heart and soul of this book.

(Note: this review was originally published at Atlantic Books Today on May 25, 2023)

If We Caught Fire is Beth Ryan’s first novel. Her collection of short fiction, What Is Invisible, won the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award in 2004 and was shortlisted for the NL Book Award for Fiction and the APMA Best Atlantic-Published Book Award.

Her stories have appeared in TickleAce, the New Quarterly, the Newfoundland Quarterly, Hearts Larry Broke, The Cuffer Anthology, and Weather’s Edge, been broadcast on CBC Radio, and won awards from the NL Arts and Letters Competition, the Cuffer Prize, the Atlantic Writing Competition, and the Victoria School of Writing.

For twenty-four years, Ryan made her living as a writer and editor—first in journalism and later in communications and web content. After making a career change in 2011, she is now a counselling therapist in private practice in St. John’s, where she lives with her husband, Stephen Kiraly, in a house filled with books and cats.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (April 30 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550819674
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550819670

Heather McBriarty is an author, lecturer and Medical Radiation Technologist based in Saint John, NB. Her love of reading and books began early in life, as did her love of writing, but it was the discovery of old family correspondence that led to her first non-fiction book, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front, and a passion for the First World War. She has delivered lectures to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, NB Genealogy Society, and Western Front Association (Central Ontario Branch), among others, on the war. Heather’s first novel of the “Great War”, Amid the Splintered Trees, was launched in November 2021.