Summer brings with it the threat of wildfires in the state of Colorado. One tiny spark can ignite a devastating burn that claims land, homes, wildlife. In “Defensible Spaces,” a short story collection by local author Alison Turner, fire (wild and otherwise) links stories, both tangibly and metaphorically, set in the fictional town of Clayton, Colorado.
Resident photographer Bonnie Hadford focuses her lens on joyously public and intensely personal moments for the town’s newspaper, the Clayton Clamour. Danny Mansion, the town’s only Native American, stands quietly in the background, trying to find his way after a tumultuous childhood spent between his undependable mother and a slew of foster homes, and a young adulthood living in Red Bird Forest. The child of the only Chinese family in town, Mae Ji is the target of discrimination and unfounded rumors, the most notorious being that she burned down the headframe of Red Bird Mine. Karly Krane lives in the trailer park with her grandmother and from a very young age is fond of lighters and risky choices.
Like puzzle pieces, the lives of residents fit together in sometimes unexpected ways and paint a portrait of a town where firewood is big business, the alcohol flows freely and everyone is trying to survive as best they can. The stories are told out of chronological order, layering past and present to give context to the lives of the characters, their loves, their fears and their struggles. Turner does a remarkable job getting to the heart of each with compassion and insight. The natural environment plays a pivotal role, with awareness always present that nature could wield its power over human progress. With stories like “Combustible Debris,” “Fuel Density” and “Home Ignition Zone,” the unpredictability and volatility of life
and relationships sits alongside that of nature. In “Mitigation,” a newcomer to town recommends a prescribed burn that has residents fired up. “Evacuation” contemplates what is important to save in
a fire and what secrets can be uncovered in those crucial moments. This thoughtful, contemplative collection is absorbing in its writing and its humanity.
Moving into the fall season, this is a great collection to curl up with on a chilly night. Preferably in front of a fire. Check this and other great reads out at the Denver Public Library branch near you.
Wendy Thomas is a librarian at the Smiley Branch Library. When not reading or recommending books, you can find her hiking with her dogs.
Join the Smiley Branch Library for an Hispanic Heritage Month celebration with food and conversation. Nicanor Diaz will show you how to make his tasty alfajores de maizena, a popular cookie in Argentina. Come practice your Spanish while you sample the real thing at this fun, in person presentation from 2-3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23. Registration is required at denverlibrary.org/events and space is limited.