Book Review: At the End of the Day I Burst into Flames by Nicholas Day

“He doesn’t shy away from the difficult moments and bares everything like a confession of sin or declaration of devotion; every page, passage, sentence, is musical.”

 

Nicholas Day is the author of novella Necrosaurus Rex (JournalStone/Bizarro Pulp Press, 2015) and the Wonderland Award-nominated collection Now That We’re Alone (JournalStone/Bizarro Pulp Press, 2017). While the former is best described as Bizarro Horror, the stories held in the latter run the full gamut of everything the horror genre has to offer. If Day has proven anything, it is that he has wonderful range as a storyteller, and he isn’t afraid to blend genres to deliver an entertaining story.

At the End of the Day I Burst into Flames is another departure from the content of his previous books and, yet, it feels comfortably familiar to fans of his work. On the face of it, the story could go in many different directions, most if not all more straightforward and safe. Firecracker is a young man whose father died when he was only a child. The doctors were baffled, but his mother wasn’t. She said it was spontaneous combustion and—the bad news for Firecracker? It’s hereditary. What follows could have been a mystery with Firecracker trying to unravel the nature of his condition, trying to beat his fate. Or maybe a supernatural horror story about a shady government organisation. Or ancient curse. Or aliens. Instead, Day delivers a heart-warming, heart-breaking tale of one man trying to understand himself through his memories before the inevitable end.

Told from Firecracker’s point of view, we are taken on a mesmerising journey through his memories, none of which really follow a linear path through time. Some may refer to events in other memories, and some feature a meeting with Death itself. The problem with his narration isn’t that he is unreliable, but the reality he experiences is flimsy at best, and the memories do jump about. But it doesn’t detract from the power of the story. Day has proven again that he can create endearing and relatable characters that, if not recognisable in ourselves, are certainly reminiscent of long-lost friends. It is a story about love in its many guises, whether the relationship with a first love, or an abusive step-parent, a distant mother, or the lingering memories of a lost father.

Day writes from a place of experience. Not that we expect him to spontaneously burst into flames any day now. But we are all consumed by fire in one way or another. He captures every emotion he details in Firecracker’s curtailed life story as though he is capturing a memory from his—or someone else’s—life. So, although the reader may not relate to everything, they will relate to something, even if it is just the raw emotion he elicits. Less a horror story or speculative fiction (save the fantastic elements of his unique condition or conversations with Death), this has more in common with literary fiction, Day writing with such profound prose and lyrical language that the reader may be left with a lump in their throat.

It’s about love and loss, life and death, anger and hate. From the highest heights of human emotion to the lowest depths, the reader is taken through the emotional rollercoaster that is Firecracker’s life, told in the most touching and moving way imaginable by the author. He doesn’t shy away from the difficult moments and bares everything like a confession of sin or declaration of devotion; every page, passage, sentence, is musical. It isn’t a very long read, but this only makes it easier for the reader to flip from the final page to the first and indulge in the command of Day’s powerful and evocative storytelling all over again.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: JournalStone/Bizarro Pulp Press
Paperback: 82(pps)
Release Date: 21 December 2018

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