WASHINGTON, January 21, 2014—Recent winner or the Notable Literary Fiction Award, Mary L. Tabor’s Who by Fire is a unique novel; sensual, emotional, and intellectual, all at once. With a captivating premise, the author leads the reader into a world of art, science, passion, and deeply felt emotion.
Beautifully structured and richly textured, Who by Fire discusses music, art, color, food, religion, and physics as well as passion, love, betrayal and loss. The novel’s cerebral quality provides a counterpoint for the intense feelings that Robert, Lena, and Isaac, the book’s main characters, experience.
Beginning with Lena’s death, Tabor delves into the psyche of her husband Robert, as he attempts to deal with her passing.
Bogged down by feelings of loss, Robert tells the story of Lena’s infidelity, beginning with a fleeting moment before her death—a tiny gesture between Lena and Isaac, her coworker. From that memory Robert pieces together a tale of love, loss, and regret from signs he overlooked while his wife was alive.
Who by Fire captures the complexity, intricacy, and nuance of relationships brilliantly. The reader finishes the novel thinking that sometimes betrayal doesn’t just involve two people, and may even question the meaning of betrayal itself. Do we betray when we cheat? Do we also betray when we ignore or take for granted?
The novel’s unusual structure is one of its best features. One reviewer describes it as “a painting in process,” where Tabor, as a painter, focuses on different aspects of the story, adding detail, color, music, and history to each part of the whole until at the end the entire work and all its beauty come to the forefront.
Who by Fire returns time and again to anecdotes of random people committing acts of bravery as well as the controlled fire Robert witnessed in Iowa as a younger man. Serving as a counterpoint to the main story, these fragments reveal the person Robert is and the profound change taking place inside him.
Tabor employs artistic and musical concepts to describe people and situations in a way that makes these descriptions central to understanding the novel. Unlike many other novels, discussions about physics, psychology, art, and music and not just erudite fluff, but actually give the story texture and depth, moving it along.
One section discusses the difference in the use of perspective in a work by Vermeer and one by Matisse. It then transitions into a discussion of how individuals can perceive objects and situations in completely different ways depending on their perspective.
Tabor likewise describes the idea of perfect pitch in music, then artfully turning it around to describe a person with perfect pitch in terms of being able to pick up subtle cues in conversation, in the tone of another’s voice, to discern what the speaker is really saying and feeling.
Multilayered, cerebral, and at the same time powerfully sensual, this novel discusses love in its beauty, pain and complexity. In her award-winning book, Tabor paints a realistic and touching picture of marriage, friendship and family.
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