Lauren McBrayer’s debut novel, Like A House On Fire, is about Merit, a married fortyish woman with two young kids and a husband, who goes back to work… and falls in love with Jane, her (female) boss, making her question everything she thought she knew about herself and her life. It sits at the sweet spot between contemporary fiction and romance, with a surprising amount of heft.
Why I picked it up: I was offered a review copy of Like A House On Fire and thought it sounded really good. And it was!
I liked a lot about this book: the realistic depiction of Merit’s marriage to Cory, her college boyfriend; McBrayer’s acute understanding of the challenges of being a stay at home mom and the often guilty exhilaration of returning to work; Merit’s dizzying surrender to her feelings about Jane. Her writing is readable, precise and perceptive. I wanted to get back to this book when I wasn’t reading it, and I finished it on a train ride home from a business trip when I had plenty of work that I should have been doing. It’s a thought-provoking and addictive read, with a suspenseful ending.
A few quibbles: Jane during the first half of the book was very different from Jane in the second half of the book. Her personality changed a lot, and as a result Jane and Merit’s relationship’s arc sometimes felt a little off. I liked second half Jane better; first half Jane was overly acerbic and caustic. Their banter didn’t always ring true for people who didn’t know each other that well. Also: poor Cory.
Overall, though, Like A House On Fire was a really good read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also enjoyed this Lithub article about how writing the book changed McBrayer’s life and helped her figure out who she is.
Like A House On Fire was the 20th book of 2022 and satisfies the debut novel category of the 2022 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.