From the Bookshelves: Burn Fortune
You know when you get to the last page in a book, finish reading, then turn immediately back to page one and start again? That’s the experience I had with Burn Fortune by Brandi Homan from CLASH BOOKS (2019). This work of fiction, won the 2020 Colorado Book Award in Literary fiction and was named Best New Colorado Novel by Denver's Westword (2020) defies neat classification by genre.
Part coming-of-age, part women’s literature, all literary fiction, this book tells the tale of sixteen-year-old June, living in the 90s in a small Midwestern in connected vignettes, or, as the publisher calls it, a novel-in-fragments. You can read the official description below my signature or watch the trailer here.
A key piece of June’s story is sexual assault, which is gestured at rather than explicitly explored, echoing the way people often respond to the trauma of sexual violence. The resulting prose reflects the dissociation June experiences after the incident, and it is also when her obsession and identification with Jean Seberg, an actress from the same small town, consumes her.
She begins her obsession with the actress asking, “How do you start from here and end up there?” Yet as June grapples with the aftermath of her trauma, the boundaries between her life, the actress, and the character of Joan of Arc, played by Seberg, become entwined in a type of dysfunctional trinity and through a mix of dreams, movie scenes and images, and story.
Through this fragmented lens, June explores what she can’t face, deciding that “around here the only way to speak is to leave and if you leave you burn. Ain’t nobody rising from the ashes.” Ultimately, she reflects “Joan chose to burn,” before creating her own safe space in the hollow of a culvert and lighting a circle of candles around herself.
The story ends with June looking into the lens of a camera, finger on the button saying “Light your fire,” in a kind of ambiguous climax that leaves the reader satisfied with the unanswered questions the novel presents. After reading, I was caught up thinking about the book and themes for days—which, for me, is the best way to feel after reading a novel.
I strongly recommend this book for anyone on your holiday list who enjoys literary fiction. It’s also a wonderful read for writers, as the different approach Homan takes in the novel’s structure/plot is interesting, refreshing, and inspiring.
It’s also a good read for anyone who enjoys poetic prose. Homan’s background as a poet shines through every page of this novel, which could almost be classified as a collection of linked prose poems.
And prose poems are plentiful in her second full collection, Bobcat Country (Shearsman Books, 2010). You can find it, Burn Fortune, and her first poetry collection, Hard Reds (Shearsman Books, 2008) on their respective publisher’s websites. Or support local businesses and ask for these books at your local indie bookstore! You can also find her novel on Amazon.
Have you read something you couldn’t stop thinking about long after you closed the back cover? Let me know in the comments or by messaging me directly!
Winner, 2020 Colorado Book Award in Literary Fiction
Best New Colorado Novel, Denver Westword 2020
16-year-old June is a corn-detasseling flag twirler who lives in a small conservative town in the early 90s Midwest. Her family is dysfunctional but her boyfriend—known only as “My Boyfriend”—has a family who is abusive. Looking for alternatives to the lives of the women who surround her, June becomes obsessed with the actress Jean Seberg (best known for Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless) as well as Joan of Arc. After a trauma, June withdraws and begins to live through Seberg’s films.
Offered these lives as alternatives to her own, June is left to wonder:
Can anyone truly transcend their circumstances,
or does having a dream mean death?