Before I Burn is a book that surrounds empty spaces. It slips from one plotline to another, focused mostly on its young, intelligent men. These men - their struggles, their triumphs, their failures - form the backbone of the novel. There's something a bit distant to the whole thing, but Gaute Heivoll writes with so much compassion for his characters (one of whom is himself, sort of, maybe, who knows?) that I couldn't help but feel for them. The distance is a bit like the setting - houses in a small town, everyone knows everyone, but there are patches of empty land between each home. How else could you not notice a pyromaniac setting your houses alight?
I was talking to one of my many literary aunts about the book just after I finished it. She was saying how she likes her books to be full of color and smell. She doesn't like "gray books". I told her she wouldn't like Before I Burn - full of gray shadows and gray spaces. Except for when it burns red. Before I Burn is a slow build, but it does build. It builds beautifully and powerfully, and though I knew the end, it managed to surprise me anyways. It's a book that I can easily see myself opening at random just to enjoy its environment and its world.
I liked Before I Burn. I liked its characters, I liked its perspective, I liked its plot and I liked the way it built around it. There are no compromises here, but small tragedies. There is disappointment and love side-by-side. Before I Burn looks at families with a calm eye. It looks at mental illness with unequaled coolness. It shifts through decades and generations with ease and expertise. It is, in all honesty, a good book. It may have taken me a while to get through, but I'm very glad to have read it.