The Fireman's Wife

The Fireman's Wife

by Jack Riggs


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It’s June 1970. As the low country of South Carolina burns in a seven-month drought, Cassie Johnson longs for escape: both from her husband, Peck, the town’s newly promoted fire chief, who seems more interested in saving everyone else’s life than in living his own, and from the low country marshes where Cassie has never quite felt at home. But as Peck and Cassie drift apart, their teenage daughter, Kelly, finds herself torn between her parents and her desperate need for normalcy. It will take a tumultuous journey back to the North Carolina mountains before Cassie can begin to understand the complicated love that resides, unrecognized, deep in her heart.

From a masterly voice in Southern fiction, The Fireman’s Wife is an emotionally bare and moving novel about one woman’s struggle to do what’s right–for her family, for her love, and for herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345480064
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/30/2008
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jack Riggs's writing has been published in The Crescent Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Habersham Review, and Writing, Making It Real. In 2000, he was selected as an "Emerging New Southern Voice" at the Millennial Gathering of Writers of the New South at Vanderbilt University. He has been a finalist in the Glimmer Train Fiction Contest and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The author teaches at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Excerpted from "The Fireman's Wife"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Jack Riggs.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Early in the novel, as Cassie is about to leave with Clay, she hesitates. “Clay Taylor is a fireman too, and what good would it do to live with him, trade one fireman for another?” Do you think she’s running away from Peck himself, or from his way of life? In what ways is Clay a better, or worse, choice for her? How would Cassie and Peck’s marriage have been different if Peck hadn’t been a fireman?

2. Cassie feels trapped by the low country in which Peck and Kelly thrive, while Peck is uncomfortable at Meemaw’s house in the mountains. Talk about the ways in which landscape and environment affect and define each of the characters in The Fireman’s Wife. How do you feel your own life and personality have been shaped by the environment in which you grew up?

3. The book begins, and ends, with Cassie thinking about the Great Wallenda’s tightrope walk across Tallulah Gorge. What symbolic significance does this event hold in the novel? How does the meaning of the tightrope walk change for Cassie by the end of the book?

4. Cassie explains, “Peck always told me that in a fire there’s nothing good for anyone, not those caught in it or those that have to fight it.” What larger significance does this statement have for the events of the book? In what ways does Cassie’s decision to leave Peck resemble this kind of fire?

5. There are several different kinds of parent- child relationships in the novel: Cassie and Kelly, Parker and Cassie, Pops and Peck, etc. Even Peck and Cassie have very different approaches to parenting their daughter. How do these family relationships affect the individuals involved, and how could each be improved? What do you think makes each of these parents and children treat each other the way they do? What lessons can be learned from these relationships?

6. “Momma used to say children were empty vessels that we fill.” Do you agree with this statement? What evidence does the story offer for and against this idea?

7. Peck’s first emergency call is for a child who died because his parents weren’t paying attention–ironically, this call takes him away from an important moment in his own daughter’s life. In what ways do the series of fire calls narrated in the book reflect on Peck’s and Cassie’s own lives? How do they add to and deepen the meaning of the novel?

8. Clay tells Cassie, “I don’t think anything could make you happy.” Is that true, do you think? What is Cassie looking for? Do you think she’ll ever find it?

9. Peck is surrounded by old friends like Teddy, and an alternate “family” of sorts at the firehouse; Cassie spends most of her time alone, or clashing with Kelly. How do you think this influences their different outlooks on life?

10. Meemaw, Cassie, and Kelly are each very different women. Discuss the ways in which their passions and personalities repre­sent the worlds in which they came (or are coming) of age.

11. What do you think attracts Cassie to Clay? Do you ultimately think he is a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

12. When Peck apologizes for taking Pops to a nursing home, Pops explains that “a man builds his home in his heart.” How true do you think this is for the other characters in the novel? What symbolic role do physical houses–Cassie and Peck’s house on the marsh, Clay’s rented cottage in Walhalla, Meemaw’s little house on the dis­puted land in Whiteside Cove–play in the lives of their inhabitants?

13. The story takes place in the summer of 1970. Why is this timing important? How would Cassie’s and Peck’s lives be different if their story were happening today?

14. Cassie is a headstrong character, with stubborn opinions of her own–yet she is always quoting the thoughts and comments of the men in her life. In what ways is she passive, and in what ways is she active? How does her passivity contribute to her frustration, and is there anything you think she could have done to resolve it without leaving Peck? How does this frustration play out in her relationship with Kelly?

15. Cassie says, “I’ve come too far, even if I fail, to give up trying now.” She says this about running away with Clay, but could it be applied to her life with Peck as well? Do you agree with her statement? Is it a good principle to live by? Why or why not?

16. The novel’s title is The Fireman’s Wife. Ultimately, whose story do you think it is–the fireman’s, or his wife’s? In what ways is it accurate, or not, to define Cassie as mainly a “fireman’s wife”? Does this change as the novel progresses?

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Fireman's Wife 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Serena43 More than 1 year ago
THE FIREMAN'S WIFE is a love story-a gritty, complicated, messy, intimate love story-the best kind there is. My favorite book I've read this year.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Fireman¿s Wife by Jack Riggs tells the story of a troubled marriage in the voices of both husband and wife. Peck is the town¿s fire chief, obsessed with the responsibilities of his job. Cassie, his wife, is disappointed with her life. Fifteen years before, just out of high-school, she had to give up college for marriage after becoming pregnant with their daughter. Now she is having an affair with Peck¿s former friend and fellow firefighter. Caught in the middle is Peck & Cassie¿s fourteen year old daughter, Kelly.Riggs¿ writing style is engaging. His descriptions of the South Carolina landscape and the fires that Peck fights are commendable. The characters, including the secondary ones such as Peck¿s dying father and his friends from the fire station, are convincingly portrayed. The ending of the novel was not unexpected, but for me, this did not detract from the story. What did bother me was Peck¿s role in the reconciliation between Cassie and Kelly. It was too easily accomplished, which undermined the growth and development of both characters. All in all, however, The Fireman¿s Wife was an enjoyable read.
BGavin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought the story was a bit predictable. I never really was in synch with Cassie's daughter Kelly - the character never became believable. On the good side, I liked that the characters were multi-dimensional -- not all good or all bad.
mzonderm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book about choices and regrets. It's about not leaving things unsaid. I didn't realize how much I was into this book until about 3/4 of the way through, when the really dramatic thing happens (I'm definitely not going to give it away here). At that point, I realized that I really had developed a connection to the characters, to the point that I was almost in tears reading about their pain.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A sad and tragic book, but intriguing. I especially liked it since the settings were my old stomping grounds - the low country of South Carolina and the mountains of western North Carolina. It¿s the story of Cassie, who is married to a fireman, Peck, and has a fifteen-year-old daughter. She is having an affair with another fireman, and unwisely exposes her daughter to her misconduct.Cassie is not a very likable character. She is self-centered, selfish, and whines constantly about her life. I just wanted to slap her. Her husband Peck, coping in the best way he can, is much more likable.The novel is told in the first-person serial format, unusual and rare, but not unique. There are only two viewpoints, Cassie and Peck. The climax is a surprise, and I can¿t reveal anything about it without ruining the book for the prospective reader. But, as the title suggests, this is Cassie¿s story. As much as I might want it to be about Peck, or Peck and Cassie together, in the end Cassie is the focus.It¿s a great read, extremely well written, and there are plenty of little things to keep the reader turning the pages.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found myself hurrying to finish this book because I simply didn't connect with the characters. I thought their conversations were stilted and the personal situations were unrealistic. I gave it two stars because of the descriptions of the low country vs. the mountain. Having spent time in both, I thought the reasons were valid by the people loving each of these disparate areas. I also thought that Riggs did an excellent idea of going back and forth between Cassie and Peck, and presenting both perceptions, but that simply didn't overcome my aversion to these characters.
LivelyLady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Using the Jodi Picoult method of the story being told by chapters written in the first person, Riggs tells the tale of a fireman and his wife (hence the title), their daughter and the wife's search for self. While Picoult pulls off the gender switch well, I thought the female perspective could have been fine tuned. I wanted to help edit this. This story taking place in the 1970s real has potential. But to me it feels unfinished. While the story line is solid, it seems to need some bells and whistles. I would like to have seen more referrals to events that were happening in 1970. I found the references to the firemen smoking a distraction, as well as the reference to "having weed in the glove compartment." I do not know if this was realistic of the time and what purpose it serves in the story. Why not just update the whole story.....unless there is a autobiographical component of which we, the reader, are not aware. And the ending was incomplete and unfinished, I felt like I was left hanging. I feel that there is more to the story not yet written.
smallwonder56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jack Riggs' novel, The Fireman's Wife, is an insightful story about Cassie and Peck, a married couple who are having problems with their relationship. I'm usually skeptical about a man presenting a woman's thoughts in a believable way, but Riggs has managed to show Cassie's confusion about who she is and what she wants in terms that allows her to be a fully-fledged character, capable of growth. Peck, the husband, is a fireman at a small town, busy with tourists in the summer. The story follows his commitment to his job, as well as the way it causes conflicts in his marriage. I think a lot of adulthood is learning to live with ambivalence and ambiguity, and that seeing the struggle with those is part of what makes a good novel. These characters do struggle--with their own desires and needs, with the hand they've been dealt in life, and with the love that they have for their daughter, and other people in their lives. I was prepared for a "guy book about a fireman" and I was pleasantly surprised by an insightful novel about two people who struggle to know themselves and each other.
JaneAustenNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"This was a fantastic novel! I really enjoyed the story line and all the references to the South Carolina Low Country. For over thirty five years, my family and I have been visiting the Grand Strand area of South Carolina for our yearly vacations. Also, the time frame referenced " The 1970's " was a great period when beach music and shag dancing were very popular. So, location, timing, characterizations and the general story line of the novel proved to make this book a page turner. Again, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone -- it's definitely a fast read."
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in the summer of 1970, this is a story that could easily be set in present-day, as the themes presented are universal and undeniably real. Told in alternating perspectives of husband and wife, it tells the story of a marriage ultimately threatening to fall apart after 15 years of struggle to keep it alive. This novel was easy to read & yet did indeed feel very realistic to me, with nothing seemingly black & white, but taking into account all the complicated feelings associated with a marriage resulting from an unplanned pregnancy and the necessity to do "the right thing", bringing two people together from very different geographical & moral upbringings, ultimately forcing one to make sacrifices in order to make the marriage survive. Though the character of Cassie is difficult to sympathize with, the feelings portrayed by her character are undeniably true-to-life. But not only does this novel explore the marriage relationship between the two main characters, it also explores the role of friendship, work comraderie, and family. Ultimately, I was pleasantly surpised by this novel, especially as it picked up during the last one-third of the book and kept me engaged until the end.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cassie and Peck Johnson's marriage is falling apart. In fact, it's probably been falling apart since it began when Cassie became pregnant with their daughter Kelly during one lovedrunk summer at the beach. Disowned by her Baptist minister father, Cassie is forced to leave the mountain home she loves and her hopes of a college education to move to the sweltering South Carolina low country. There she all but loses her identity in the everyday struggles of raising a daughter and trying to love a fire chief husband who seems to be more involved with his crew than his family. Cassie isn't sure what she wants from life, but she knows that to find out, she'll have to escape strong, steady Peck and his beloved low country, the ties of which she can always feel tight around her.Sure that this time, really, is the time she is leaving for good, Cassie sets off for the mountains with Kelly and Peck's friend Clay determined to escape from the life that has bound her for so long. Soon, though, she learns that getting away isn't so simple as simply packing her things and driving away. When unexpected events occur, Cassie finds that the new life she's pursuing isn't quite what she'd imagined and maybe not what she's searching for at all. Told in chapters alternating between Peck and Cassie's perspectives, The Fireman's Wife is a story of a marriage collapsing under the weight of its own past. At the start, the novel is less than captivating. Its choppy, belabored beginning chapters populated by characters who come off as selfish and none too likeable make for rough going. Riggs' beginning is a bit forced and a little too obvious in the telling, and his two main characters don't exactly leap off the page. Luckily, however, as the story continues, it shakes off many of its problems. By the midpoint of the book, Cassie and Peck are more genuinely fleshed out and readers are more involved in their story and their problems. The alternating viewpoints manage to successfully present both sides of an argument that the two never really manage to have. Even the mountains and the low country come to life so that readers can share in the characters' deep love for the essence of their respective homes. Ultimately, readers can't help but pull for the two to heal the damage of their shared past and find a way to reconcile their differences.The Fireman's Wife is not the perfect novel, but if you can look past some of its ticks (a clunky first fifty pages, an occasional awkwardness in the first person present tense narration, and perhaps an irritating overuse of the expression "pissed off"), it is a sweet story that reminds us both that love isn't always easy, but is worth it, and how sometimes to love another, we first need to know and love ourselves.
dara85 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel had good character development, although they weren't always likeable. I liked the fire action scenes. I thought it did a really good job of showing teenage angst between mother and daughter. Once I got into it , it was pretty good.
mpmills on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Cassie Johnson and the difficulties she had in staying in her marriage to Peck, her husband of fifteen years. I had trouble liking Cassie. I thought she made wrong choices in her behavior with both Peck and her daughter. I enjoyed the story, even with the bittersweet ending.
nyiper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time rating this book even though I liked it a lot. For me, the character descriptions and their development were great, especially when you consider that it's a male author writing about a woman's feelings---but I could not figure out when I reached the end why I felt let down. What was supposed to happen that didn't? It's not as though I don't like surprises but this just left me sort of confused. Maybe I just need J. Riggs to write a sequel to see what-happens-next to Cassie. The people are worth a follow-up and I would be very happy to read more about them. One small detail that I wouldn't mind would be to leave out all the smoking by the subjects. It seemed especially odd during a drought and being done by firemen even with the mention by some of them that they "knew" it might be a potential problem.
annaflbak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wished there had been another title for this book (and I continue to wish it for all the books coming out). That said, I found Rigg's writing to be exceptionally evocative for place, and immediately went to my library to read some of his earlier works. He's definitely a regional writer that I would continue to read. I also wished that the time frame of the book was clearer; the appropriate attitudes for Cassie and Peck (marriage the only option for unplanned pregancy; the waxing women's movement etc) fit the time, but are dated by today's standards. The characters are not as likeable as some, but that doesn't make their story less compelling. It would be a good bookclub pick.
kalky on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The thing I like about both of Jack Riggs' novels is that they aren't tidy. At the end, we aren't presented with the characters' lives neatly wrapped up, issues resolved, and everything moving forward into the happily ever after. That's not life, and Jack does an excellent job of accurately portraying how life really shakes out.I also love books where the characters become real to me, and I found Cassie to be heartbreaking in her "realness." Although Peck was a bit too close to perfect, their troubles still resonate with the reader, and anyone who knows teenagers appreciates Kelly's role in the story. The secondary characters are authentic as well.All in all, this is a lovely novel. It's well written and well thought out... I only wish I had a book club with which to discuss it because I think it would be a fantastic story to review in that setting.
cargal16 More than 1 year ago
I love that this is based in South Carolina. I am a local so the description of places were all the more vivid. This book is very well written, it engrossed me into every detail of the characters lives. I am not one of the types to cry over a movie or book, however the climax really caught me off guard and tears were flowing. Excellent book!
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harstan More than 1 year ago
In June 1970 South Carolina low country is in its seventh month without rain. Drought or not Cassie Johnson is bored with being the wife of Walhalla fire chief Peck and even the mother of their fifteen year old daughter, all star pitcher Kelly; the reason she married responsible Peck. The drought just makes it more oppressive on her as her spouse is always putting out fires. Since the last rain, she and firefighter Clay Taylor have had an affair hotter than an out of control blaze; he even jokes that the rain will only come if they cool their relationship.

Finally having enough of her husband¿s too busy to see to her needs, Cassie and Clay run away together. However, a revelation strikes her that by fleeing with Taylor, she is repeating the same error that led to her marrying Peck. Cassie leaves Clay to go stay with her mom in the nearby mountains to look inside and determine what she wants, but fate waits for no one as she will soon learn.

THE FIREMAN¿S WIFE is a deep character study that looks inside to what motivates the title protagonist. The support cast is developed to enable readers to better understand why Cassie feels the way she does. The tale is clearly hers as she finds her heart as arid as the weather and her soul as oppressed as the humidity. Fans of strong family dramas (cannot say historical as key 1970 social elements like the civil rights and anti war movements are lacking) will enjoy Cassie¿s tale as she learns the grass is not greener on the other side especially during a drought and as the Moody Blues¿ song says: ¿Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home¿.

Harriet Klausner