The mountains of Pennsylvania are filled with secrets, family and faith, as is the novel Fire is Your Water by Jim Minick, which takes place in this region of the country in 1953. Ada Franklin, the main character, has a rare gift for faith healing, known as "powwowing" among the Pennsylvania Dutch, but when the family barn catches fire, burning Ada's mother's hands and killing a cow, Ada finds she is afraid and loses her faith. Consequently, she also loses her ability to heal, and her spirit is broken.
While working at the Howard Johnson's on the highway, Ada meets a coworker's nephew, Will Burk, who works at the Esso station next door. Will has his own doubts. He has not attended church since he was twelve years old, perpetually angry with God for choosing to take his mother away. Will's mundane life takes an interesting turn when he finds an injured raven in the woods. He takes the bird home, nurses it, tames it, and names it Cicero. Cicero provides Will with entertainment and something for which to care, commenting on the events of the novel, often with a good bit of humor. Eventually, Cicero learns to talk, saying "Ada is purty," although he cares little for her and is jealous of the time she spends with Will. In spite of Cicero's opinion, and their differences in faith, Will and Ada fall for each other.
Told from three perspectives, Fire is Your Water is a story of love and loss, faith and doubt, and the struggle to find fulfillment while remaining true to oneself. The characters are endearing and well developed, possessing internal struggles that kept things interesting. I was particularly impressed with the author's ability to write from the perspectives of both a Christian and an agnostic. Neither point of view is proven right; the characters' spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) are simply a part of who they are. Ultimately, Fire is Your Water is a captivating love story, but it is Cicero's monologues that really steal the show.
Jim Minick is the acclaimed author of five books. His memoir The Blueberry Years, A Memoir of Farm and Family won the Southern Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and his collection of poetry Burning Heaven received the Jefferson Cup for best book of the year from the Virginia College Bookstore Association. He will be reading from Fire is Your Water, his debut novel, as part of SoLi'ts South Bound lecture series on August 27 at 2 p.m. at the Arts Building, 301 E. 11th St. More information can be found at http://www.southernlitalliance.org/minnick.