(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The “doom everywhere” message that Stacey Cameron Macaindra, the protagonist of The Fire-Dwellers, allows to permeate her outlook on life is a projection of the inner turmoil she is experiencing. The real inferno of the novel burns in Stacey’s agitated consciousness. Stacey struggles to get a grip on herself, to accept her inadequacies, to accept that her family is never going to be like a Norman Rockwell painting, and to accept that she must aspire to represent sanity in what she sees as an insane world. The omniscient narrator gives credence to Stacey’s assessment of life yet maintains a distance needed for the reader to be objective about Stacey’s character, as the primary mode of narration is Stacey’s interior monologues, used for acute self-evaluation and expressing her indomitable wrath. Without Stacey’s sardonic burbles, this would be simply another novel about an oppressed woman ready to have a nervous breakdown. Stacey is too much of a survivor to crack up, but she is caught in a self-defeating groove in which she is communicating her own awfulness to herself without communicating anything constructive to anyone else.

The events of the novel transpire over several months before Stacey’s fortieth birthday. Reaching forty is enough of a crisis, but Stacey, housewife and mother of four, is not certain about anything anymore. She goes through the motions of being alive; she looks after her husband and children and tries to cope with world events, but it all seems a bit much for one person to shoulder. Stacey wants to communicate with her family, but she cannot make the right connections. Her family takes her for granted; her husband, Mac, is only interested in his job; her teenage daughter, Katie, seems to hate her mother; her two sons, Duncan and...

(The entire section is 732 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Fire-Dwellers is the third in the series of Laurence’s five Manawaka books. Its heroine, Stacey MacAindra, is the sister of Rachel Cameron, the heroine in the second novel in the series, A Jest of God (1966). Whereas Rachel seemed doomed to spend her life in the narrow confines of the small town of Manawaka, her sister Stacey escaped the town and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, at the age of nineteen. At twenty-three she married Cliff MacAindra, a salesman. Now thirty-nine, Stacey is not happy with her life. She feels unattractive, trapped by the pressures of motherhood, confused by her husband’s lack of communication with her, and frustrated with her husband’s decision to begin a new job working for a man who appears to be a manipulative and overbearing charlatan.

Laurence tells the story through Stacey’s eyes, using the form of interior monologue as the character reacts to events in the present and reflects upon events in the past. Stacey’s world is dominated by her responsibilities as a mother of four children, each of whom is an individual with unique needs. At first Stacey feels she has reached an impasse as a caregiver. The burden of responding to the children’s diverse requests seems too much to bear. Stacey retreats into a private world. At one point she laments that she is neither a good mother nor a good wife.

In time, Stacey’s experiences contradict this declaration. She survives several crises facing her children. At the end of the novel she feels her strength of will renewed. Finally, she declares, “I used to think there would be a blinding flash of light someday, and then I would be wise and calm and would know how to cope with everything and my kids would rise up and call me blessed. Now I see that whatever I’m like, I’m pretty well stuck with it for life.” She realizes that she is a good mother and possesses an internal reservoir of strength and determination.

The strains in the relationship between Stacey and...

(The entire section is 821 words.)