'Because a Fire Was in My Head' Kate Riley, a woman born on the western Canadian prairie in the early part of the last century, is the main character in novelist Lynn Stegner's latest work of fiction. The book's title, Because a Fire Was in My Head, comes from a poem by William Butler Yeats.
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'Because a Fire Was in My Head'

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'Because a Fire Was in My Head'

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Book Reviews

'Because a Fire Was in My Head'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

"Because a Fire Was in My Head" is the latest novel by Lynn Stegner. Its main character, Kate Riley, is a woman born on the Western Canadian prairie in the early part of the last century. Here's our reviewer, Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE: It's in her hometown of Netherfield, Saskatchewan in the early 1940s that Kate Riley first notices, as we hear about in Lynn Stegner's fine prose, the open prairie and the sky rising and fanning overhead, with a dizzying omnipresence that held both motion and suspended motion. An overwhelming show of emptiness as strong as a blow to the head that blanked out everything, coupled with a tyranny of sheer freedom, sheer possibility, that tended to straighten spines and fill lungs, and run the mind along a ragged hedge.

Kate's ragged escapades in and out of love make clear that she's a creature formed by this land and the halting emotions of her dying father and mad mother that make for the fire in her head.

As she moves westward across Canada, and then down to San Francisco, she seduces men and gives birth to babies and then abandons them. Even priests fall under the spell of Kate Riley's native charm. Her strange mix, as Stegner puts it, of sensuous, narcissistic ferocity and blind gullibility. And yet how does she find comfort when alone on a bus from Vancouver? She tells stories stripped to their core. Stories that even a fellow passenger on a night bus could wrap her heart around.

This fellow traveler, Stegner goes on to say, would now want to be burdened with long stories, complicated explanations, to hear about other babies, about the wind on the prairies, and how it had been after, after, ever after. Did anyone really want to see what had fallen to the mud beneath the water surface? Could anyone bear to know that it wasn't all quite beautifully simply blue and cool and pretty? Who was ever on the side of the dammed?

After reading this novel, "Because a Fire Was in My Head," I'd nominate Lynn Stegner.

SIEGEL: The book is "Because a Fire Was in My Head" by Lynn Stegner. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University. This is NPR. National Public Radio.

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