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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

I was frustrated by what felt like disjointed cause and effect and lack of clear motivation on the characters' parts.

Power begins by noting a neglectful mother's superstition and obsession with starting regular fires in the run-down apartment she shares with her teenage daughter--not with keeping the fire lit, but prioritizing the act of having lit a candle or other flame. The windows are also shut tight for some reason, even in hot weather. The mother is also intent on controlling every nuance of every conversational exchange, and she is outrageously defensive when her teenage daughter Margot makes a peep--for example, to ask practically what they should make to eat from the mother's oddly random and unhelpful mix of groceries. The mother-daughter dynamic and home situation is possibly intended to be dramatic and mysterious, but it quickly felt exhausting because so many questions went unanswered and the cause and effect regarding even minor matters felt disjointed and jumbled.

It's tough to feel sympathy for a seventeen-year-old who is without money, hungry, and desperate to please her impossibly shut-off and unhappy mother, but who wouldn't try to get a job or otherwise shift her family's tenuous financial situation in some way. (Later we find out frustratingly that Margot has been pilfering money and could have bought sustenance after all.)

There is extensive wavering. Margot wants to get to the bottom of a big mystery. She seems inclined to help the police, but then almost immediately she inexplicably pulls back and says this is all between her and Gram and her mom. Characters (and real-life people) are certainly capable of contradictions, but there are repeated contradictory elements that aren't clear and that made the book feel disorderly. Other details aren't carried through consistently and began to make things feel careless; Mrs. Miller says she's made pancakes, mentions she doesn't want the pancakes to get cold, then we see a tray of pastries referred to repeatedly but no pancakes. The police threaten Margot with juvie after a break-in if she doesn't help provide answers, then the officer simply takes her home. Maybe the threat held for later, but it wasn't made clear. I was left wondering why I was paying attention to the details of the story to try to unravel elements if I couldn't be sure that the words were written with care to help me get to answers.

An enormously important event that takes place in the past feels far from justified when it is explained. There was some unhinged behavior on one character's part, but the damaging of photos and off-kilter comments and a desire to harm don't lead to the key moment in a logical way. And the reveal toward the end of layers of tragedy felt far-fetched; how was the very existence hidden over and over? And the teeth--! I couldn't get my head around that detail in any way, shape, or form.

What did you think?

I haven't read Power's Wilder Girls, published in 2019.

Has anyone read Burn Our Bodies Down? I grew impatient with the details but would love to talk about some of the Big Reveals if anyone else has read it.


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