Author(s): Megan Dunn
Riffing on Ray Bradbury's classic novel about the end of reading, Tinderbox is one of the most interesting books in decades about literary culture and its place in the world. More than that, it's about how every one of us fits into that bigger picture - and the struggle to make sense of life in the twenty-first century.
If there had been any rain he would have opened his mouth and tasted the drops but it wasn’t raining and it hadn’t rained for some time. The vegetation everywhere was dry, what they call tinder dry because to be useful tinder needs to be dry, suggesting that dryness is a requisite quality of tinder, though what then to call it when it is wet, he wondered, wandering from the task at hand. It would take only a spark struck from a flint, he thought, trying to climb back aboard his earlier train of thought, to set the whole thing off. But even this wasn’t the thought he had started with. He had been thinking of tasting the raindrops, a sort of conceit for opening a review of the book Tinderbox by Megan Dunn, the raindrops, or rather the tasting of them, an awkward motif isolated by Dunn from the book Fahrenheit 451 and Truffaut's film based on the book upon which her book is based. What was he thinking? Perhaps he would write a story in which a character, call that character Miss Ingram for reasons outlined in Tinderbox, he won’t go into that now, writes, or attempts to write and fails, due to fatigue perhaps, or insufficient time or focus, or perhaps brain-power, a review of Tinderbox by Megan Dunn, which is an account of Dunn trying, and failing, for reasons other than those just listed, to write a novel based on the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, in one iteration a novel of Fahrenheit 451 from the point of view of its female characters, which iteration, when completed, made the Bradbury estate uncomfortable, in a legal sense, leading directly to the non-publication of this iteration and thence to the writing and subsequent publication of Tinderbox, a book about someone writing a book about a book, or, more often, a book about someone writing a book about a film about a book, or about the Spark Notes about that book, or, sometimes, about the actors who play the characters in the film of the book, in other words a metametametametametanovel, but so much fun, with each wheel within the other wheels turning and picking up, in its treads, if that’s the right extension of the metaphor, who wants it, all sorts of stuff in the life of the author-character, the putative Megan Dunn, the outer wheel, so to call it, or the outer wheel at least until the story about the pseudonymous Miss Ingram, or, indeed, the account of the writing of the story about Miss Ingram, who tries and fails to write a review of the book about the putative Megan Dunn, which includes Dunn’s employment as a bookseller in the failing Borders chain, the evanescence of a relationship, her writing of a book based on Fahrenheit 451, the failure to bring this book to readers, the writing of a novel on the NaNoWriMo scheme, a sort of reverse Alcoholics Anonymous programme for writers, and Tinderbox itself, the book about all this, and all that mentioned above, and other things, such as merchandising, that you will need to read the book to find out about, each part or layer or vector or whatever contaminating the others and yet handled so deftly by Dunn, with equal measure of attachment and detachment, to build a subtle depiction of the mutable but enduring force of literature in individual and collective lives and of the forces arrayed against it, not least of them failure, the book is strong on failure, and what could be more compassionate, even to Miss Ingram, who has failed to establish herself as a character in someone's story about failing to write a review of Tinderbox, not that the fault is hers, perhaps that conceit should be abandoned, than treating to failure in all its guises and agencies, failure being an essential quality of anything worth doing. Could writing about failure ever be anything but a success? Dunn knows what temperature books burn at. Half price. Such weighty matters should always be this lightly held.