Krysten Ritter’s debut novel Bonfire is really just okay. Don’t get me wrong, Ritter can write, but throughout my reading of Bonfire, I kept having the feeling that I’d read this story before.
The main character, Abby, is an environmental activist slash lawyer who has returned to the small nothing of a town where she grew up. She is there to prove that the one corporation in town, Optimal Plastics, has been corrupting the opinions and perspectives of residents by providing them with jobs, donating to the school, and upgrading the community – all while poisoning the reservoir that serves as the town’s water supply. As Abby slowly peels back the layers of Optimal’s deviousness, she also delves into her past to try and figure out why her once-best-friend turned nastiest-of-mean-girls, Kaycee, disappeared suddenly after high school.
Since Abby was the target of the high school mean girls she finds it hard to believe any kindness extended and questions everyone’s motivations. She has a hard time trusting others and often pushes those away who try to get close to or help her. (In these ways Abby reminds me of Jessica Jones as portrayed by Ritter.) Sometimes Abby is too stuck in the past. Every bit of the story seems to pull her into memory.
As an avid reader (plus television and movie buff) it’s not uncommon for a novel (or show) to feel familiar. I’m not saying that Ritter didn’t create something original here, she totally did. Her prose is spectacular, for example, “The particular odor of artificial air freshener, musty old travel guides, and baked goods is like the barrel of a gun, shooting me into the past.” Some of the plot points felt forced, or even borrowed. It could be the timing of my reading these two books in sequence, but about halfway into the novel, Abby begins drinking to a black-out drunk state and has to retrace her steps. In The Girl on The Train those events are what drives the plot. In Bonfire it felt… lazy.
Overall I found it difficult to be invested in Bonfire. It’s the first-speed bump book of my attempted Cannonball, and I’ve noticed it’s these not great books that I want to write good reviews for that drive me off the path. And I really did want to love Bonfire, I even have the Barnes & Nobel signed edition. I enjoy Krysten Ritter’s acting work. She can write, and if she decides to try again, I hope her plot can be as developed as her prose.