Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Fires of Our Choosing Paperback – April 3, 2012
|New from||Used from|
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
About the Author
A boy acts out at the death of his father and abandonment by his brother through a savage playground beating; a young man confronts his own troubled history when asked to hire on his girlfriend's strung-out brother in an attempt to keep him out of prison; a teenage babysitter works through a scorching-hot summer afternoon that will prove to alter her life forever; a grieving widower finds comfort in the unlikeliest of places, a recently-built casino; an itinerant farm worker visits the same former lover in South Dakota year after year while following the Harvest north; two friends search for excuses and fail to claim responsibility for their own decisions after one loses his father, and the other's house burns to the ground; and a taxidermist falls in love with the ex-wife of his high school bully and tries to convince her to marry him despite her son who seems to share his father's bullying mentality.
"A brilliant, sometimes heartbreaking debut by this gifted young writer and Columbia writing teacher. Cross captures the angst and tenderness of the young men and women growing up in the rust belt with little hope and less luck. The moments of grace and redemption shine through. I loved every story." Linda Bubon, Women & Children First Bookstore
"There are countless moments like this in Fires of Our Choosing, lines that appear true from the moment they’ve been written and hang in the back of the mind for days afterwards... With Fires of Our Choosing, Cross climbs boldly into the ring with the greats, if only to deliver a decisive knockout punch." Urban Waite, Fiction Writers Review
"Cross offers no apologies for his characters: their poor choices, their lack of moral fortitude, their betrayals of each other and the poverty of their surroundings and, often, themselves; he leaves these things alone. They are who they are, and if dignity has been denied them by the rest of us, including us story-tellers, it is restored by this collection. That he has undertaken to serve as their raconteur should place Cross on the radar of all the big prizes that gift those blessed with talent, compassion and fearlessness, particularly during this present moment in our history." Ru Freeman, Huffington Post
Eugene Cross was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania and received an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. His stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine (which named him one of "20 Best New Writers" and his story "Harvester's" a "Top Five Story of 2009-2010"), American Short Fiction, Story Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and Callalloo among other publications. His work was also listed among the 2010 Best American Short Stories' 100 Distinguished Stories. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Chautauqua Writers' Festival, and the winner of the 2009 Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. He currently lives in Chicago where he teaches in the Fiction Department at Columbia College Chicago.
Top customer reviews
Reading stories like these, especially ones like "Harvesters" but even "Hunters" and "Come August" I'm pleasantly reminded of what made Steinbeck's writing so powerful and pleasing to the eye and heart. Like Steinbeck Cross writes of human sadness that subtly consoles rather than depresses and doesn't leave the reader with a grim after-flavor as so much modern literature does. This bleeds through beneath each story from the essence of the writer himself: someone who has deep empathy for nature and humans. He has an uncanny ability (reminiscent of Tolstoy) to understand human beings and their plights as they fumble towards change.
Each of these stories are beautifully put together and one feels no pretensions in its literary aspects. When symbols arise they arise completely naturally and from the essence of the characters themselves. Stories where a setting, a field of tilled hay, or a stuffed bear in a bar display case, a dying dog, can speak as much to us about the interiors of the characters as the dialogue and narrative itself. A field harvester who reaps the fullness and beauty of the earth but never bothers to look back to see what he might've wrecked; a bear in glass display case can't help but become the perfect emblem of the future emotional reflections of a narrator recalling the meeting with a charming woman at a bar who ends up unveiling an ugly side.
Cross has the uncanny gift for getting beneath the skin of what's happening--of showing us characters who are at a cross roads in life, floundering in transitional stages--with such lucidity you can't help but sit back in moments of recognition as we've all been there at one point or other blundering for the right way out of our predicaments.
Each of these stories capture the silliness, the sadness, the utter pathos and the plain trueness of human life you can't help but feel he's somehow lived all the lives of the characters he's written and had a lot of time to reflect.
This is a knockout debut collection. Eugene Cross is a name that we're going to hear a lot more of. Fire of Our Choosing marks the start of a brilliant career. It's a book that stays with you.
The characters in Cross' stories are all dealing with some type of struggle. Whether it's a young boy so overcome with rage at his brother leaving following the tragic death of their father that he severely beats up another classmate, a widower who finds a renewed sense of excitement by visiting a casino about an hour from the retirement community he lives in, a teenage babysitter just on the verge of college whose routine babysitting job has bigger ramifications than she is aware of, or the middle-aged man locked in a battle of wills with his girlfriend's son, whose temperament is all too similar to the boy's father, who used to beat the narrator up when they were in high school, each story has its main character facing a test of emotional (or sometimes physical) strength. Some of my favorite stories in the collection included "Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean," "Only the Strong Will Survive," "Come August," "The Brother," and "The Gambler."
If I have any criticism about the collection, it's that I felt that some of the stories ended just before something key was going to happen, but the stories didn't leave you in suspense wondering what that something was, I just felt disappointed. Luckily those instances were outweighed by some powerful, fully fleshed out stories that affected me. Eugene Cross is a tremendously talented writer, and I hope this collection is just the start of a terrific career in fiction. I'll be watching.
There's something deceptively simple about this book and Eugene Cross's writing style. When you first read the collection, the stories appear un-intrusive, deadpan, easy picking. But there is something complex that surprises you every time.
(By the way, Eugene Cross offered to send me a free copy of the book, but because I'm a believer in supporting indie authors, I actually purchased the book on Kindle.)
If you're a writer, like myself, at first you fool yourself into thinking, "I could do this. I could write this story," only to be hit in the chest with a depth of emotions you didn't realize was actually there at first.
The two major themes that this collection tackles are ideas of loneliness and abandonment. Almost every main character in each story has either been abandoned or has lost something, whether it's a house that burned down or a mother who abandons her son to go apologize (alone) to the boy he beat up nearly half-to-death in school. Or the woman who has to clean up after her brother committed suicide. Or the harvester who travels the country to earn a living but always tries to return to the same woman.
The writing itself is sharp, deliberate and at times cunning.
"I knew also what it was like to wake up in a hospital room, one arm connected to an IV, the other handcuffed to the bedrail, your best friend dead in a car you were driving. I knew what it was like to have a policeman look at you like you wer ethe lowest thing on earth and tell you the wreck was so twisted that emergency crews had to cut the legs off the corpse to remove it."
Other times you're forced to re-read the same story two or three times before you're sure you caught all the subtleties.
was first introduced to Cross in a fiction writing class at Pitt and I didn't even know it. It wasn't until I hit about halfway through his collection that I realized I had read one of his stories before.
The story was "Hunters" -- which is now a personal favorite.
"Hunters" is about a narrator who revisits the memory of the time he committed adultery with a woman he met at a bar. But the driving force behind this piece is not the drunken, sexual tension, but rather the confession-style approach the narrator takes as soon as he discovers whom the woman left behind at her house. The discovery is almost haunting. There's a complex sadness and selfishness that takes over, and Eugene never once tells you how you must feel about the situation. You just feel it.
As the narrator begins to tell his story he says, "But on this night, the one I'm going to tell you about..."
And as the reader, you wonder, who's the "You" in this story?
And I realized that answering that question would unlock the answer to the rest of the stories: the entire collection. When the narrator in "Hunters" says "you," he says it directly to the reader. After all, it is the reader who is the listener to all of these tales of sorrow, loneliness and abandonment. Why? Because we, as the readers, are meant to feel remorse, compassion and maybe even hope for these characters. The stories intend to connect and communicate with the reader directly. It is by joining these two identities (characters and reader) together that these stories are truly resolved. The one thing that these abandoned people need most is for someone to listen to them.
The same is true for the stories that end without a real ending: Without a conclusion.
Eugene Cross - Photo by Spark + Tumble
One story ends like this:
"He heard footsteps come thumping across the floorboards, and he waited, not knowing in the slightest what might happen next."
That's it. Nothing after that.
In the other story, a man hands his wife a rifle and then:
"When he reached the truck, he climbed into the cab, shut the door, and watched her, waiting to see what she would do."
Why would an author do this to his readers? Why would he torture them with an "unfinished" work. The reason is (and the answer lies) in the details of the story brought forth up until that crucial moment.
So often Cross makes you feel like a Literary Sherlock Holmes, one who tries to find answers in the clues of the story's details. Every gesture means something greater. Every memory and moment holds momentum to propel you forward to a conclusion.
So even when two of the stories are complete cliff hangers, you (as the reader) are meant to feel alright, because the answers have been given to you all along. Whether the message is about a man finally taking chances without unknown results or a man (who loves routines) embracing the unpredictable, these stories end right where they should.
There was only one story where I felt the ending was unwarranted by the "clues" leading up to it, in "The Brother." That was the only time I wish that more had been revealed between the two main characters to justify the twist at the end of the story.
Otherwise, the collection overall is believable and enjoyable.
I've often reflected about short stories and whether they are still pertinent today. Eugene Cross proves that they are. Short Stories are relevant to our culture not because they're big money makers (quite the contrary in fact) but because it forces readers to think more clearly. Something our society deeply needs.
Cross's stories not only make you think, but they make you feel human and extend compassion to a lonely bunch, reminding you that even when you feel lonely, by sharing your own story with others you can feel more connected.
A solid 5 stars for this collection. Nicely done.
Visit Eugene Cross's website here, and please support him by buying a copy of this fine collection.
Most recent customer reviews
The book is a collection of several short stories, "literary fiction" style,...Read more