Mendocino Fire


You have to want to write, but love you can do without wanting: which makes it sound as if it’s the simpler thing.


I thought I knew my authors but Elizabeth Tallent was an unfamiliar name. I was instead attracted to its title, more Mendocino than Fire.

The book and I got off to a rocky start. The first couple of stories weren’t connecting with me, but when I got to Mystery Caller, I just wanted to stop and read it and then reread it all over again. Because that was a story that just worked for me, it just clicked right into place and I knew that this story – even if none of the other stories worked for me – that this story would make things alright.

Ten years later, this can happen to her: someone can set his coffee cup down on the counter instead of in its saucer, and she can, for that, love him.

Other stories, like Eros 101, weren’t quite so much my style:

Q: Examine the proposition that for each of us, however despairing over past erotic experience, there exists a soul mate.

A: Soul? In some fluorescent lab an egg’s embryonic smear cradles a lozenge of silicon, the vampiric chip electromagnetically quickened by a heartbeat, faux-alive, while in a Bauhaus bunker on the far side of campus, a researcher coaxes Chopin from a virtual violin, concluding with a bow to her audience of venture capitalists, but for true despair, please turn to Prof. Clio Mitsak, at a dinner party in her honor, lasting late this rainy winter night, nine other women at the table, women only, for the evening’s covert (and mistaken: you’ll see) premise is that the newly hired Woolf scholar will, from her angelic professional height and as homage to VW, scheme to advance all female futures, and the prevailing mood has been one of preemptive gratitude, gratitude as yet unencumbered by actual debt and therefore flirtatious, unirksome even to Clio, its object.


Yup that’s one long sentence. But goodness, the way Tallent writes, it makes me envious. It is elegant and evocative, her observations of every day life.

Her husband has taken the twins to soccer practice. She wants them gone, and they will be – rarely does domestic life offer such a happy intersection of desire and circumstance.

To be honest, at times while I was reading these stories, I wondered if I were just not literary, not learned enough to fully appreciate this book. It felt like these stories are meant to be dissected, analyzed by lit students, by creative writing MFAs and writing workshop participants.

(Or perhaps it was just the way I was rushing through this collection of stories, needing to read them in order to write this post. Or perhaps it was just the state of mind I was in while reading them. Because sometimes you just need to be in the right frame of mind to be reading certain books. And these days my mind seems to be framing me towards comics and SF/fantasy.)

But back to Mendocino Fire – is there something there for the rest of us? Yes, from the fishing community to the redwoods to the cafe on Telegraph Avenue, the stories are about all of us. The fears and hopes we have about our relationships, that secret desire to call an ex and listen in on their background noise to figure out what’s been going on in their lives, that dreadful knowing that a loved one is on his last breaths. Old love, new love. Loss, desire. Pain and suffering, joy and happiness.



Elizabeth-TallentElizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours 

Check out the rest of the tour stops

Tuesday, October 20th: Books on the Table
Friday, October 23rd: Bibliotica
Monday, October 26th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, October 27th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, October 28th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, October 29th: she treads softly
Friday, October 30th: M. Denise Costello
Tuesday, November 3rd: Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, November 4th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Thursday, November 5th: Imaginary Reads
Friday, November 6th: Raven Haired Girl
Monday, November 9th: Lavish Bookshelf
Tuesday, November 10th: Dreams, Etc.
Wednesday, November 11th: You Can Read Me Anything
Thursday, November 12th: The Well-Read Redhead
Friday, November 13th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews


  1. Those sentences are lovely, poetic, but at what p0int do the words start to overwrite the content? I think the characters and concept of a story would have to be very strong to stand up to the weight of the language.


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