Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Assorted Fire Events,” the title story of David Means’s second book of short stories, which won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for fiction, is a poetic meditation on the universal fascination with fire, describing and pondering the significance of several events in an attempt to explore what drives people to “play with fire” or “follow the fire truck” to a burning building.

The first event does not focus on the person who started the fire but on the boy’s fascination with the effect of fire on a house. What he likes is the way the fire makes its way from the inside out until there is no more inside, only outside. He also likes the way the pine trees around the cottage are reduced to brittle towers. The skeletal remains after fire has ravaged a house and its surroundings create a poetic image of something being stripped to the bone.

The narrator introduces the second fire event by saying that the sound of fire, like popcorn in hot oil just before the kernels explode, makes him laugh. He tries to find a metaphor for the sound, noting it was like a “huge hunk of brittle cellophane crumpled by the hand of God.” However, he says he will never use that metaphor, but rather the metaphor of a giant weed whacker. The ironic juxtaposition of this sound against the sound of his children whooping and hollering with joy is what interests him in this event. When he finds out that the fire started from spontaneous combustion from varnish-soaked...

(The entire section is 605 words.)