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The Fire Gospels: A Novel Paperback – June 23, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Magnuson's strengths lie in his appealingly average characters and his ear for the easy speech rhythms of middle America. His enjoyable second novel (after The Right Man for the Job, 1997) once again features a talented but underachieving regular guy, a typical sort whom circumstances force into atypical actions. Grady McCann, a bright but unmotivated maintenance man, likes to spend his after-work hours drinking in his local bar, the Liquid Forest. Unfortunately, Grady's hometown of McCutcheon, Wis., is suffering a season-long drought, and the oppressive sun has driven the folks in the Liquid Forest?and all over McCutcheon County?into a state of near panic. For relief from the drought, the townspeople have put their faith in the local weatherman, Lucky Littlefield, whom Grady considers a sanctimonious fake?and whom he suspects of sleeping with his wife, who's Lucky's assistant at the TV station. Like the archetypal rainmaker, Lucky, who wears Hawaiian shirts and encourages his audience to pray for precipitation, has ridden the drought to celebrity status. But when a strange meteorological phenomenon sparks a countywide forest fire, Grady, Lucky and all of McCutcheon find themselves fighting just to survive. The cataclysmic, almost biblical fire that occupies the novel's second half brings out the truest nature of Magnuson's cast. At times, however, it devours towns too quickly (is the entire state of Wisconsin devoid of disaster planning?) and draws the focus away from the small interactions that make McCutcheon so vivid. Magnuson's writing is strongest when he shows characters trying to go about their everyday lives?drinking, going to work, trying to get along?and the quiet moments in this book remain the most revealing.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

At the center of this apocalyptic novel, set in northern Wisconsin, is a TV weatherman/evangelist named Lucky Littlefield. Although he is an opportunist and a scoundrel, Littlefield comes to be regarded as a kind of spiritual saviour by his viewers during a period of dangerously prolonged drought. Grady McCann, a maintenance worker at a convalescent home, is the novel's working-class hero who recognizes Lucky for the fraud he is and is one of the few people around able to think clearly during this crisis. Magnuson (The Right Man for the Job, HarperCollins, 1997) concludes the novel with an Old Testament-style cataclysm?a firestorm with 200' flames that sweeps through the parched countryside, leaving it both devastated and cleansed. Although the plotting in this novel occasionally strains credibility, it is nonetheless enjoyable and sustains drama. Recommended for libraries with large modern fiction collections.?Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll.,
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060930101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060930103
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,651,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mike Magnuson made a respectable splash with his debut novel, impressing many of the right people with Right Man For The Job. A wiser, safer man would follow-up with something similar. But Magnuson is not that man. Oh, he's smart despite the blue collar act he likes to put on, especially at the bar where he will hold forth savvily on the intricacies of Proust. Nonetheless, he wrote The Fire Gospels instead of Right Man II.
But it proved to be a good gamble.
One that, if there is any justice in the literary world, will pay big. For, at the very least, The Fire Gospels reveals a breadth and depth to a young writer that is as rare as poetic justice.
Magnuson's apocalyptic follow-up is an irregular tale of irregular weather; perverse religious fervor; ironic love and unchecked lust in Wisconsin's McCutcheon River Valley, a place where farmers work at life doggedly and cheerfully, pausing only to gaze up at the northern lights on clear summer evenings. A place where folks shovel snow from the sidewalks, go to church on Sundays, and pinch their pennies for retirement. A place where Grady McCann, a comfortably married man, fixes sticky beds in a nursing home by day and visits his favorite watering hole by night, chatting about the fall of the Roman empire with Lennart, the portly and homosexual bartender, until his first opportunity to put the unimaginable "French Clamp" on a college co-ed named Kate. Things aren't quite as pastoral and pedestrian as they first appear.
McCutcheon is jumping with folks gone crazy by a summer-long drought and desperately depending on the savior they've found in their southern-bred, Hawaiian shirt-wearing meteorologist.
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Format: Paperback
I'd remarked one or two chapters in that THE FIRE GOSPELS was 'very pro-Christian.' I didn't mean that in a derogatory or sardonic sense, but boy did I eat my words anyway.
In some ways, it reminded me very much of Sheri Reynolds' THE RAPTURE OF CANAAN as well as THE SCHOOL OF BEAUTY AND CHARM (whose author currently escapes me). Similar veins of middle class Christians struggling with harsh dosages of reality.
Mike Magnuson's THE FIRE GOSPELS is very harsh indeed, and lambasts any assumption I made (and shouldn't have made) judging by the first few chapters that it had anything to do with belief. Rather, it slaps you in the face with the degradation of belief, the destruction of faith. I am left, having just finished the book, feeling empty and raw.
THE FIRE GOSPELS is quite thought-provoking and may not be exactly what you first think.
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Format: Hardcover
In describing famous conflagrations, Pepys in Picadilly (1666) and Pliny in Pompeii (AD79) foreshadow plenty of disaster in Mike Magnuson's new novel. THE FIRE GOSPELS enchanted this reader because it depicts realistic characters with a callus on their palms, and sometimes, their souls. Condensing the action to one long, firey weekend, and writing in the present tense, Magnuson shifts the perspective among Grady McCann, his wife Erica and his fantasy girl, Kate. This reader believes the words and actions of each. None of them has fingers long enough to scratch irritating questions about the efficacy of prayer, the nature of faith, or having faith in nature. All act out answers to the big question of what happens to grace under the pressure of a drought. This reader admires these characters because they act rather than reflect. Grady rails against the false promises of that contemporary prophet, the weatherman. This villain, named Lucky, preens before the camera, uses words to mislead and gets his comeuppance. I admire old-fashioned stories where motive replaces minimalism and characters fortify themselves with a shot and a beer, not with a decafe latte, before they confront real problems. I urge others to read this book now, in the long days of summer. Reading it near the fireplace or the woodstove may induce nightmares.
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By A Customer on May 20, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Add to the register of explosive literary subgenres a new category exclusively for Mike Magnuson's latest novel The Fire Gospels: Wisconsin Gothic. Magnuson blends dark, dark comedy (a town's spiritual leader is its TV weatherman) with apocalyptic fantasy (a meteorite sparks a devastating, city-swallowing fire) and very real human drama (the workaday struggles of a beleaguered maintenance man and his acquaintances) to create a book perfect for our age of millennial anticipation/paranoia and its onslaught of mindless disaster films, nuke-testing crises, teen killing sprees, and televised suicides (coincidentally a key moment in Magnuson's first novel The Right Man For The Job).
Magnuson seems to be asking, What would we be as we faced annihilation? Would we be heroes, as we, the opiated masses, like to pretend we would be while we lay around watching TV? Or would we be worms, looting convenience stores, hurting others, or ourselves in a game of dumb survival or surrender? Would we be sheep, clinging to "God's bosom as our pillow" like in the old Carter Family song "When the World's On Fire"? If I knew that a wall of fire was coming, or say, an earthquake or a nuclear bomb, would I confess my love to that girl I'd pass leisurely otherwise? Would I move to save my marriage? Would I hunt down my enemies? Would I help a stranger in need? These are some of the questions that the characters in The Fire Gospels ask themselves.
The heroes in The Fire Gospels aren't the people preaching escapist hope, but the people who accept the world as it is, a place where "husbands beat their wives, wives beat their children, children beat their dogs, and the dogs howl at their screen windows, mournful trombone notes into the windy night.
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