"What a finely made, complex, and wholly engrossing novel this is. The people who inhabit Things We Set on Fire seem to be squeezed into some catastrophic critical mass, like the Big Bang in reverse, and yet the prose is completely under control, precise and lucid, sometimes electric with nuance, sometimes strangely musical, and always convincing. The moral pressures on these characters become almost unbearable, yet the radiance of grace and pardon and understanding shines on. Reed has given us a beautiful book."

— Tim O'Brien, Author of The Things They Carried

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From the best-selling author of Carry Yourself Back to Me comes another tightly plotted, emotionally complex novel about strangers who happen to be part of the same family.

In Things We Set On Fire a series of tragedies brings Vivvie’s young grandchildren into her custody, and her two estranged daughters back under one roof.  Jackson, Vivvie’s husband, was shot and killed 30 years ago, and the ramifications have splintered the family into their own isolated remembrances and recriminations.

This deeply personal, hauntingly melancholy look at the damages families inflict on each other – and the healing that only they can provide – is filled with flinty, flawed and complex people stumbling towards some kind of peace.  Like Elizabeth Strout and Kazuo Isiguro, Deborah Reed understands a story and its inhabitants reveal themselves in the subtleties:  the space between the thoughts, the sigh behind the smile, and the unreliable lies people tell themselves that ultimately reveal the deepest truths.


“Reed is fearless in nudging her characters toward disaster, and the reader follows with a thumping heart, confident in the story’s authoritative prose and, ultimately, redeeming spirit. I was genuinely moved by this novel, and recommend it highly.”

—Antonya Nelson, author of Bound: A Novel and Some Fun: Stories and a Novella