June 03, 2024

Fire Exit

By Morgan Talty
Review by
Morgan Talty follows up Night of the Living Rez with Fire Exit, a beautifully written novel that is sometimes funny, often heartbreaking and hopeful against all odds.
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What can you say about Charles Lamosway, the protagonist of Morgan Talty’s Fire Exit? He’s not a particularly happy man. Though he has a few friends and is devoted to his difficult mother, he’s essentially lonely. A white guy with ties to Maine’s Penobscot Nation, Charles lives right across the river from the reservation. From his side of the river, he can see the house of his ex-girlfriend Mary and their adult daughter, Elizabeth, across the water. Elizabeth, raised by Mary and Mary’s husband, Roger, doesn’t know that Charles is her father. Charles thinks it’s time for her to know, as he puts it, “that her blood is her blood.” Indeed, he’s desperate for her to know.

Charles’ mother, Louise, is elderly and racked with dementia. But she has never been well. Even when Charles was a child she’d be overwhelmed by periods of such intense depression that she’d spend days in bed, cut off from Charles and her husband, Fredrick. As with Elizabeth, Fredrick wasn’t Charles’ biological father. Yet he’s not as intent on finding out about his own bio-dad as he is determined to make Elizabeth find out about hers. Then he discovers something about his daughter that makes him more determined than ever.

Fire Exit is Talty’s first novel, following his 2022 short story collection, Night of the Living Rez. It is beautifully written, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking and hopeful against all odds. This reviewer couldn’t help but think of the stories of Raymond Carver. Like Carver’s, Talty’s characters are working class, bedeviled by money troubles, drink, mental illness, lousy parents, estranged kids and difficult relationships. But in Talty’s writing, the particular history and context of the Penobscot Nation are always present. One reason Mary doesn’t want Elizabeth to know about Charles is that she wanted to raise her as a Native, supported by a community and traditions that Charles just couldn’t provide. As he puts it, “I knew and still know what it was like to both not belong and belong, what it was like to feel invisible inside the great, great dream of being.” This is a moving, humane book.

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Fire Exit

Fire Exit

By Morgan Talty
Tin House
ISBN 9781959030553

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