Just in time for Jessica Jones season 2 to be released on Netflix next week (you can read my review of the first season here), I decided to crack the spine of actress Krysten Ritter’s first foray into literature, the thriller Bonfire.
Bonfire is a good novel. I have to say, I was surprised by how easy it was to read and how well it was paced and constructed. I’m embarrassed to say this now, but I wasn’t expecting much from Ritter in the way of creating a strong narrative voice or a well-composed plot, and I certainly wasn’t expecting her writing to be as good as it was. But, I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised on all fronts and I really do think Ritter could have a career as an author. Bonfire was fast-paced and compelling, and even a reader like me, who isn’t all that knowledgeable about environmental law, will be enticed to continue reading and get to the resolution of the crime. I also liked Abby as a character and narrator, and I was very intrigued by Abby’s continued reflections on her past life in her hometown of Barrens. I really liked that the plot didn’t feel linear and instead at times felt like a stream of consciousness, with memories bombarding Abby at inopportune and frequent moments. I think Ritter has this knack for creating an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty and personal darkness.
My main issue with Bonfire, though, is a pretty big one and is something that made it so that I could only ever call Bonfire a good novel and not a great one. I believe that the plot and characters of Bonfire are extremely cliché. I should qualify this assessment by admitting that I don’t read very many novels in the thriller/mystery genre. However, I know enough about the genre to recognize over-used clichés and to be annoyed by them. For example, the fact that Abby is a young woman who left her rural hometown right after high school to escape bullying and has now become a lawyer, forced to return to said hometown to investigate the criminal negligence of a large corporation, is a plot I have heard and seen recycled many times before. Abby’s evident drinking problem, her strained relationship with her religious father and her reluctance to become friends with her high school enemies are further stereotypes that I have witnessed used countless times in both books and films. Finally, the plot of a large company contaminating the water supply of a small town also seems to not be very fresh or original, and it reminded me heavily of the plot of the movie Erin Brockovich in so many ways that were distracting and frustrating. Yes, Ritter does succeed in writing a very atmospheric novel that has its intriguing and chilling moments, but I think her reliance on popular clichés and plot devices distracts from her skill as a writer.
Would I read another novel by Ritter? Sure! But I would like to see Ritter challenge herself to come up with a story that is a bit more unique and creative. Again, her writing of characters and her first-person narrative style is well done, but I was looking for something special in the actual plot of the story that was severely lacking. I hope that Ritter will take a few more risks with her next novel because I feel that she has a lot of potential as a writer…and while Bonfire is a good first attempt at a novel, it is sadly nothing more special than that!
❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart