"Play With Fire" by Dana Stabenow
Play With Fire (a title that is also a command) ultimately is a sustained attack on Christianity. It's a genre book pushing at the limitations of genre. It has moments of satire -- a scene of two French tourists and a small dog stopping at a rural bar, searching for dogsleds to photograph, for example. (Play With Fire is entirely set in Alaska.) At times, the book becomes autobiographical. (Of course, I mean "autobiographical-seeming.") The first third of Play With Fire is obsessed with mushrooms.
And it's not a detective novel. The hero, Kate Shugak -- a great name -- is certainly not a detective, unless that word describes anyone who detects anything. Kate is, when the book begins, a mushroom-picker.
The reason I read Play With Fire is the epigraph of the first chapter:
The origin of mushrooms is the slime and souring juices of moist earth, or frequently the root of acorn-bearing trees; at first it is flimsier than froth, then it grows substantial, like parchment, and then the mushroom is born.
It is from Pliny.
Each chapter begins with such a quotation. For example, Chapter 8 (the chapters have no titles) commences with this excerpt from Plutarch:
During thunderstorms, flame comes from salt vapors. Deafening noises come from soft clouds. Why then, if two such violent forces could issue from softness, should not violent lightning, striking the ground, cause soft truffles?
Suddenly I realize, quoting these lovely passages, that Dana Stabenow is subtly critiquing Almighty Western Civilization for having just as many crazy notions as the illiterate savages of North America. (Kate Shugak is an Aleut Indian.)
The most "Indian" aspect of the book is Kate's matriarch grandmother, Ekaterina: an absolutely steel-strong figure, who knows nearly everything:
"Sergeant Chopin," she replied, inclining her head regally. Ekaterina was always very formal with Chopper Jim, possibly because she harbored the suspicion, correctly, that more than one of her grandchildren had been fathered by him...
Kate's sexuality is particularly unusual, to "white" readers. The one love scene resembles a motorcycle accident.
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