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Report fom a Place of Burning

George Looney

It’s summer in a Midwestern city, and babies are burning in their cribs under odd circumstances. The truth of what’s happening is elusive, tied up in the underlying difference between knowing and believing. Other types of burning articulated by the six narrators include a mother surrounding herself with her paintings of flames engulfing buildings, a detective obsessed with solving the crime of the burned babies, and a prophet who sees everything that happens around him in terms of the book of Revelation. Metaphorical and real burning is a part of the life of each of the six narrators, with music and art as recurring elements, as is the strange miraculous behavior of memory. These, the novel suggests, can reshape the world as well as haunt and devastate us and, now and then, save us.

Foreword Reviews

Reviewed byLinda Thorlakson

"Insider observations become the way to resurrect a doomed community in Report from a Place of Burning. The accounts of a widow, adulterer, mother, detective, prophet, and widower merge into a comprehensive report of the town, where crib death becomes synonymous with murder by spontaneous combustion.

Boundaries between religion and science, fantasy and reality, and the destructive versus regenerative qualities of broken glass and fire dissolve to make this “place of burning” better understood through its mysteries than through solving them.

Anecdotes abound, and they prove ideally suited to fleshing out the town’s characters, relationships, and circumstances. One features fictional people destined to live in newly constructed houses; it reveals as much about the town’s history and inhabitants as it does about the couple who fabricate the tale to entertain each other. Stories about a legendary detective’s fried egg sandwich and words of wisdom reveal less about the living legend than they do about his observer/partner and the crimes that they investigate in tandem.

Each entry is objective, insightful, candid, and intimate enough to be entrusted to a personal diary; each could easily stand alone.  But they don’t. Themes, concepts, individuals, and events from one account start to appear in others with greater and greater frequency, until one story line seamlessly continues into, and is embellished by, the next.

Skillful use of lighting and details allows imagined scenes to easily elude doubt while launching those based in fact into the realm of fantasies. Consequently: the flesh of a mother’s arms burns from nursing her smoldering ghost baby; the hospital treating her burns is so bright that the only thing that could be real in such light is sorrow.

Humor and tragedy stroll hand in hand through George Looney’s novel, where the living talk to the dead and the dead not only talk back but are no less transformed by their experiences of death than they were by their experiences of life."
—Linda Thorlakson

Report from a Place of Burning is utterly original, but it is also the work of a master of the traditions of storytelling. In language that is exquisite but also precise, George Looney unspools a host of secrets that culminate in a haunting and moving whole. With such vivid and earthly, but also dreamlike, imagery, he invites the reader to experience these accumulating revelations, casting a spell as much as offering a tale. But as lyrical as it is, make no mistake: this is a real story, one you won’t mistake for an experiment. Even as you’ll want to linger over the sentences, so musical and striking, and consider the brilliance of this careful and unusual construction of a novel, you’ll want to turn the page, breathless for what’s next. This is that rare, wonderful sort of fiction that casts a spell, fills the reader with admiration for the writer’s talent, but entertains you, too.”
—Laura Kasischke, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

“Looney’s novel introduces Rainier Maria Rilke to Sherwood Anderson, escorts them into our 21st century, and invites them to sing. And sing they do. A gyre of desire and devastation, vision and transfiguration, Report from a Place of Burning dazzles.”
—Ann Pancake, author of Strange as This Weather Has Been

"Gorgeous. Haunting. Unforgettable. Like every real mystery, Report from a Place of Burning lives on, creating questions and leaving one hungry for answers. Looney’s novel smolders with captivating voices, shocking possibilities, and private histories of characters whose heartache, loss, and love are seared behind my eyes.”
—Aimee Parkison, author of
The Petals of Your Eyes

“A fabulous mix of the arcane and ordinary. A familiar Rust Belt setting—a defunct Heinz factory with the acrid smell of vinegar lingering in the air—gives the story a desperation and Philip Dickish, dangerous, dystopian feel . . . the perfect surreal setting for this bleak (although at times, quite humorous) narrative and concoction of strange events. . . . In a profound way [the novel] speaks, metaphorically, to “the times.” Amidst all the preoccupation with apocalyptic/Armageddon books/television/movies, the sense of impending doom in every facet of the news, and the rough beast that has slouched his way into the White House, here’s a nod to something that passeth all understanding, with a Julian of Norwich ending of radical optimism, in spite of grim, horrific events.”
—Sara Pritchard, author of
Crackpots

“These eighteen interlocking monologues have the mysterious weight and strength of a chorus, twining and buzzing with strange harmonies. Individually, there are stunning, unforgettable moments, which build on each other in a way that creates a novel, but a novel in five or six dimensions.”
—Dan Chaon, author of
Ill Will

“The towns in this world are losing their edges; there are deer in the Heinz plant and clues in the many voices. All manner of blessings and curses live in Report from a Place of Burning, a poet’s novel.”
—Ron Carlson, author of
The News of the World and Five Skies

About the Author

George Looney’s books include Hermits in Our Own Flesh: The Epistles of an Anonymous Monk (Oloris Publishing, 2016), Meditations Before the Windows Fail (Lost Horse Press, 2015), the booklength poem Structures the Wind Sings Through (Full/Crescent Press, 2014), Monks Beginning to Waltz (Truman State University Press, 2012), A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011), Open Between Us (Turning Point, 2010), The Precarious Rhetoric of Angels (2005 White Pine Press Poetry Prize), Attendant Ghosts (Cleveland State University Press, 2000), Animals Housed in the Pleasure of Flesh (1995 Bluestem Award), and the 2008 novella Hymn of Ash (the 2007 Elixir Press Fiction Chapbook Award). He is the founder of the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, where he is Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, Editor of the international literary journal Lake Effect, Translation Editor of Mid-American Review, and Co-Founder of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

Report from a Place of Burning • George Looney

184 pages • ISBN 978-1-948585-00-2 • Trade paperback, $16.95

e-Book available

Published by Leapfrog Press LLC • www.leapfrogpress.com

Distributed to the trade by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution • www.cbsd.com

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