In the prologue of FIREFLIES, David Morrell informs his readers that he “imposed a frame of fiction onto fact” in the book’s four parts; then in an epilogue he explains “where fact and fiction diverge.” Considering that Morrell began writing this book the day after his son’s death and finished it two months later, one understands why the grieving father fictionalizes much of this devastatingly personal story. As the author of eleven works of fiction and creator of Rambo, Morrell knows how beneficently fiction’s demand for order gives form to the chaos of human emotions. With no emotional or psychological distance from the traumatic experience chronicled here, and sedated with four tranquilizers every day, Matthew’s father needed to fictionalize for a semblance of order and distance.
Although the first part--"To Fear to Go into the Dark"--seems contrivedly stiff, as Morrell imagines himself on his deathbed in his eighties and recollecting his son’s death forty years earlier, the second part--"A Power Rage Beyond Comprehension"--is devastatingly powerful, first-rate writing. Only slightly less engaging are “Panic Attack” and “Deja Vu,” the third and fourth parts, wherein Morrell desperately imagines the recent past as a future he can shape so Matthew will survive.
Often wielding glibness against his sentimentality, and compulsively demanding of the fictionalizing process time’s power to heal, Morrell best describes his purpose and hints at the forgivable flaw in FIREFLIES when he says in the epilogue, speaking of Matthew’s death, “I’m still trying to figure it out, to come to terms with it, to vent my emotions.”