Saturday, February 10, 2007
Firehouse by David Halberstam
Firehouse is going to be a hard book to review, I think, because you can't say you "enjoyed" reading about people who died tragically, can you? However, one can say, "I enjoyed the writing," and that was definitely the case. I thought the author, David Halberstam, did an exceptional job of getting to the heart of life in a firehouse and drawing in-depth portraits of the men who worked at 40/35 - Engine 40, Ladder 35 - a firehouse located on the west side of Manhattan, from which 13 men were dispatched on September 11, 2001 and only one survived (and the lone survivor was badly injured).
I've had a little bit of experience with the firehouse scene as an outsider looking in, since I had one published short story with an arsonist and that required a bit of research that involved chatting with a local fire investigator. Later on, I had a little help from two paramedics and the now-deceased founder of Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS), Jim Page, who very kindly loaned me a copy of his history of paramedicine to photocopy and read. Unfortunately, I still haven't finished that novel.
Point being, I've been to a firehouse and noticed the quiet when an outsider steps inside the doors, the hesitation to say anything that reveals that which is germane to life within a group of people who know that they must rely upon each other not only to work together as a team but possibly to save each others' lives. Firefighters live in a very insular world and the fact that Halberstam was able to learn so much about the individual personalities is quite impressive. Real people are fascinating and three-dimensional. Halberstam definitely made those firefighters real to me and I closed the book with a feeling of gratefulness - grateful to have glimpsed their lives and thankful to those who are willing to take such huge risks for complete strangers. It's a very emotional read, of course, but a very good one.
The photo above is that of a local firehouse. I took it yesterday, while we were out searching for hawks to photograph. I've been told by several people that it's a haunted firehouse, but I've yet to find out the full story.
More info on the hawk search forthcoming. It was a perfect day; I can admit that much.
Just finished: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I'm feeling very daunted by the prospect of reviewing this one, as well. Lotus has written a beautiful review that eclipses anything I can even remotely think of saying about the book, but I'll try. Later.