The Surprise of Burning

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In wartime London, legendary jazz singer Lela Maar gives birth to a boy during a German V-strike--an exploding bomb tears the baby from her womb and kills her in the process. So begins this extraordinary second novel by Michael Doane, a novel that compels the reader’s attention from the first to the final page.

Moving lucidly from the novel’s present (1974) to the past, from war-torn Vietnam to New York, from 1960’s Paris and Algiers to the New York of the 1930’s and 1940’s, THE SURPRISE OF BURNING bristles with images and ideas that agitate and enlighten. Its principal characters, Lela Maar and her son, Hunter Page, are well realized. Doane’s alternating points of view produce vivid word pictures of Lela’s life and times, her lovers, her music, and her abiding need for living on the edge. Page exhibits this same need. A photojournalist drawn to war and its grisly images, he does one tour too many in Vietnam and returns with a metal plate in his head and Army Intelligence on his heels. Like moths drawn too close to the flame, both mother and son inevitably experience the surprise and the curious relief of burning.

The author’s diction expertly conveys the disparate worlds of mother and son; his knowledge of jazz and photography contributes to the moods of past and present. Powerful and moving, THE SURPRISE OF BURNING is the work of a master storyteller.