Isidore Mirsky, the narrator of Paul Lisicky’s gorgeous novel The Burning House, desperately wants to be a good man. He loves his wife. He loves where he lives. He wants to do good work. He wants a purpose. He wants to be good. The problem is that Isidore doesn’t really know who he is anymore outside of his lusts and fears and indiscretions. Indeed, it seems he has lost the ability to function in the moment.
Even as he feels his wife, Laura, falling away from him into illness, he also pushes her away–out of fear, and, ultimately, lust. The one person who brings Isidore back to life is his sister-in-law, Joan. It is as if the two women are halves of one perfect woman for Isidore–a person who has never existed and can never exist.
Told in gorgeous, hypnotic language, we follow Isidore through his travails and hope that he will come back to living within the moment, which he does. For in the end, after all seems lost, it is Isidore who is found as he listens to his wife sing once more:
So she lets go and gives voice to everything coming at her: the love on the way, the love left behind. And good health. The possibilities. What more could a good man want? And how very nice for the weary traveler, who’s had enough of the same old thing, who could stand a little refreshment every now and then.
It’s a beautiful book. Read it.