Review: The Price of a Small Hot Fire by E. F. Schraeder

cover of The Price of a Small Hot FireThe Price of a Small Hot Fire by E. F. Schraeder
Raw Dog Screaming Press (July 2023)
72 pages; $13.95 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

E.F. Schraeder believes in ghosts, magic, and dogs. A Rhysling nominated poet, Schraeder is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association. Her newest collection is The Price of a Small Hot Fire.

Because this book deals with an estranged parent, what caused the estrangement, what the effects of the estrangement had on the speaker, etc. This is poetry rich with pain, as in “Alternate Words for Estranged,” which contains lines like
I plucked recurring nightmares like invading weeds, flung
them to the scorned realm of my unconscious
beneath layers of ice so thick I froze, stunned
by the quickest glance in their direction.
Here, Schrader is delving deep into the emotional pain connected with this book, and using the dreamy images of horror — nightmares, realm of unconscious, etc. — drives that grief forward for her readers. This is a painful book to read, but the pain is cathartic and well worth the journey.
Elsewhere, Schrader taps into childhood stories, sometimes relating the memory, and sometimes using them as vehicles for the overarching themes of the book. For example, “Returning to Narnia” has lines like
Strange to ignore the pine needles littering her hair,
to skip over clumps of ice on the floor,
to blink out her sopping wet slippers. Curious,
how they mistook the smoky scent of that checkered robe.
Here, Schrader uses the character of Lucy to work as vehicle for the abandonment and the lack of interest felt by the speaker in this poem. It’s poem that works to explain the emotions earlier in the book, and the way Schrader taps into childhood and childlike imagery in this book works, especially because the juxtaposition against the other emotions and poems only serves to heighten their effect.
Overall, The Price of a Small Hot Fire is, as Schraeder describes, about “complicated grief, responding to the death of an estranged parent.” The whole collection creates a narrative arc, centered around loss and pain, as well as survival and resilience. It is a strong collection from an already established writer, and something horror readers need in their collection.

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