When I was a teenager, everybody spent a lot of time talking about how much our hometown sucked. “It’s boring, there’s nothing to do.” I thought it was fine. I thought, if your city is boring, it’s because you’re boring. I never understood how a city, a geographical location, could be bad. A place is just a place, it’s the people that make it a bad place to live.
In Barrens, Indiana, the city in Krysten Ritter’s novel, Bonfire, the people are definitely bad. But the town is bad too. It’s actually poisoned.
Abby Williams is a young attorney who escaped her hometown, a typical midwestern town saved from an economic collapse only by Optimal Plastics, the enormous factory that employs almost everybody in Barrens. But now people are getting sick and Abby’s team of lawyers have been brought in to look into pollution from Optimal as a possible cause. While she’s back in town, Abbey’s also investigating the ten-year-old disappearance of Kaycee Mitchell, her one-time friend and, later, high school tormentor.
Bonfire is a dark pseudo-thriller full of alcoholism, illness, sexual abuse, and murder, themes not unfamiliar to the author, who in her other career as an actor has played dark characters on shows like Breaking Bad and Jessica Jones.
There’s nothing especially groundbreaking about Bonfire but it is a surprisingly well crafted debut novel full of well-observed character details. It bodes well for Krysten Ritter’s future projects.