American Fire

Photo: Courtesy of Liveright

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American Fire
288 pages; Liveright
When Monica Hesse heard somebody lit more than 65 fires in under six months on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, she was “in the cruddiest place a journalist can be—between stories and out of ideas.” She traveled to Accomack County and watched Charlie Smith admit he was guilty of setting the blazes, but she wanted to know more: Why would he destroy abandoned houses, broken-down trucks, and even an old hotel that had shaped the landscape in and around his hometown? 

The result of two years spent sifting through the ashes, American Fire (Liveright) is both a true-crime memoir and a character study of Smith, a mechanic and recovering addict who plunged into a relationship with one Tonya Bundick, the Bonnie to his Clyde. Together they embarked on their feverish spree, but the fires consumed their love and loyalties, making it clear that “the person you are closest to will always be a total friggin’ mystery.”
— Taylor Lannamann