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The Secrets of a Fire King

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Showcasing the intensity and perception of a truly gifted writer, this collection of stories transports us to exotic locations as it follows the lives of those on the fringes of society -- a fire-eater, an American and his Korean war bride, a juggler and a trapeze artist, a cleaning woman whose life is interwoven with Marie Curie's. Each must confront, in dramatically different ways, the barriers of time, place and circumstance in that most universal of human experiences: the quest to discover, and understand, the elusive mysteries of love.
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Many of the award-winning stories in this first collection feature strong, pragmatic women as protagonists, usually motivated by love in its broadest sense: A 19-year-old finds hidden strength after skydiving with an unstable boyfriend; a lonely, uprooted Asian woman makes a life in America; the cleaning woman of a famous scientist idolizes her employer despite suffering physically because of his experiments; a wife connects best with her husband during the time of their greatest challenge. Edwards utilizes her perceptual ability and keen eye for detail to delineate believable characters, many of whom are facing unique challenges. Their haunting situations are effectively complemented by unusual settings in Asia, America and Europe. Recommended for all literary collections.‘Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, Md.

While many debuts rehash the author's personal life, Pushcart Prize winner Edwards presents a first collection of 11 short stories noteworthy for the range of their settings‘America, Europe, Asia‘and for the scope of the author's impressive imagination. Edwards uses the elements (fire, air, water, earth and metal) symbolically to ground her stories as characters move through the various landscapes she has created. An adolescent girl skydives during an emotional crisis; a pair of acrobats works out their private and professional balancing acts; and Madame Curie's cleaning woman becomes fascinated with radium. In the title story, a young carny fire-eater gets into a love quadrangle involving a revival preacher, a virginal country girl and her young brother, but the emotional climax is more than just the expected conflagration. On a quieter note, "The Invitation" is a beautifully focused tale set in Malaysia, where the societal and the personal worlds clash. Though the book is full of invention, the narrative tone remains strangely constant throughout the stories, no matter the setting or the speaker. Not all of these stories fly, but when Edwards is at her best, her tales read like the work of a wise traveler who returns home with uncommon souvenirs from other lands. (Mar.)

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