Home Fires Burning

Jake Tibbetts has a son dying in a foxhole in Bastogne, weighing his existence against a drunk and bloody past, and a pubescent grandson at home on the brink of discovering his own manhood. Jake, the wily, irreverent, and often unreasonably cantankerous editor of the local weekly paper, can only hope that both son and grandson will meet their respective tests with the unyielding personal code he has tried to impress upon them: that a man must take hold of his life and shake it for all it is worth.

The hope seems dim in one case, optimistic in the other. Jake’s estrangement from his widower son, Henry, buttresses the tutor-pupil relationship he enjoys with his twelve-year-old grandson, Lonnie. As the boy searches for an identity through his fantasies about an ancestor, Confederate Captain Finley Tibbetts, he begins to exhibit Jake’s own stubborn independence as well as other tendencies toward his grandfather’s unavoidable, fundamental malevolence.

Author Robert Inman depicts with warmth and humor a parade of characters who suitably flesh out a feeling for small-town life. As the events of the war unfold, the village comes of age, just as do all three Tibbetts men in their private battles against a three-generation curse.

Intricately structured, with a sensual, rolling narrative, HOME FIRES BURNING is storytelling on a grand scale. Yet Inman’s overblown treatment of the self-righteous Jake will discourage all but the most benevolent of readers from taking a genuine interest in his fate. The book ultimately fails on this note: to the author, Tibbetts may be a lovable old rascal, but to others--as is the neighbors’ consensus--he is simply an aging buzzard.