In Burner by Robert Ford, readers are introduced to two characters, Iris and Audrey. We follow their story through “then” and “now” timelines told in short, bingeable chapters that switch back and forth between the two women.
If you read the preface, you will know that Burner deals with a heavy subject and has the potential to cause emotional trauma, so I recommend reading the preface. Bob Ford does a great job setting early expectations.
There are two epigraphs that signal to the reader what is in store. One is on human cruelty; monsters. The other is a sort of calling to the reader,
You can choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.
It’s a great quote for this story.
The two women in this book each go through their own personal nightmare that no woman would ever want to experience and yet, via Ford’s fictional story, we do experience it.
Readers will go on a brutally painful journey right alongside Iris and Audrey as they live it. Chapter by chapter. Then and Now.
Because of the nature of the subject matter, I felt like there was much potential for this to be over-the-top or exploitative, but I think Ford expertly manages to walk an elegant line between too much detail or not enough to land the punches.
And the punches do land.
Despite the highly compelling storytelling, short chapters and a sense of urgency to know what the fate of the characters will be-there were times when I felt like I just couldn’t keep reading.
Sometimes it was the knot in my throat as I fought back tears.
Sometimes my blood was boiling in anger.
Other times, I was just overwhelmed by feelings of disgust or despair. Is this really the world that we live in? Are people truly capable of this kind of violence? But the questions are hypothetical because we already know the answers.
Yes, yes, and then some.
It’s awful. But what are our options? To ignore the truth? Real life news or true crime could be too much for people and that’s why I enjoy stories like Burner because it allows my heart and my mind to wrestle with real-life horror in a safe and interactive way without exposing myself to the harsh realities of truth. This is the purpose of horror fiction, actually. It’s why I love it so much.
There were a few things I felt were missing from the story; for instance, more exposition on the perpetrators in the story. But I also get a sense that the missing details are intentional. Perhaps the author didn’t want to give a voice to the men/monsters. There’s enough there for readers to piece together the “who,” the “why” and the “what” to be satisfied, but it does leave questions. I also had a hard time with some of the choices that Iris and Audrey made in their present timelines, but again — I’m not sure if that’s just because I was seeking moral immunity from these women, or what? So I’m happy with the way things are. My desire for everything to be a little less messy does not detract from the way the author wanted these characters to react to their circumstances. It’s totally valid.
Burner is an excellent example in the ways that an author can explore fears and frustrations through the craft of writing and readers can enjoy it in the same way as they receive it. I highly recommend it if you’re able.