An affecting story about how relationships are built—and burned—by desperate needs and obligations
When Henry Cooper sets out on his mail route on Arcadia Street one crisp spring morning, he has no idea that his world is about to change. He is simply enjoying the sunshine as he lights up a cigar and tosses the match to the ground, entirely unaware that he has just started a fire that will destroy a neighborhood and kill a young wife.
Even though the fire has been put out, it has ignited a lurking menace in an otherwise apparently peaceful suburb. In Fellow Mortals, Dennis Mahoney depicts the fire's aftermath in the lives of its survivors. There's Henry's wife, Ava, devoted to her husband but yearning to recover a simpler time in their marriage. There's the angry neighbor, Peg, who wants Henry to pay for what he's done, no matter the cost—which ends up being grave. And then there's Sam Bailey, the sculptor who lost his wife in the fire and has retreated to the woods to carve mysterious figures out of trees. As Sam struggles to overcome his anger and loss, Henry becomes the focal point of deepening loyalties and resentments, leaving them all vulnerable to hidden dangers and reliant on the bonds that have emerged, unexpectedly, from tragedy.
With sparse and handsome prose reminiscent of Raymond Carver and early Stewart O'Nan, Mahoney's probing first novel charts the fall of a man who has spent his life working to be decent and shows us a community trying desperately to hold itself together.
Mahoney s debut novel explores the aftereffects of a devastating fire on a neighborhood and community. Walking down Arcadia Street on his route, mailman Henry Cooper lights a cigar and tosses away the match, accidentally sparking a conflagration that kills one person, destroys two houses, and melts the siding off two more. Distraught, Henry attempts to make amends with his neighbors among them, two elderly sisters whose house is destroyed and whom he takes into his own home. With Sam Bailey, whose wife Laura was killed in the fire, Henry has more trouble. Sam initially rebuffs Henry s attempts, but eventually accepts Henry s help building a cabin in the woods near the site of his burned-down house. Then there s Billy Kane, whose wife has tired of his abuse and left him. Bereft, Billy spirals downward, culminating in a frightening Thanksgiving Day attack on Henry s wife, Ava, at Sam s cabin. Mahoney weaves together the patterns of a community ( You re not alone, even when you are ) and depicts the aftermath of a catastrophe with an unwavering eye. A strong debut reminiscent of the novels of Stewart O Nan.