Poet, novelist and short story writer Stephen Guppy lives on Vancouver Island. He is the author of a novel The Fire Thief, a story collection Another Sad Day at the Edge of the Empire, and two books of poetry, including Understanding Heaven, which was short-listed for the BC Book Prize. He teaches creative writing at Malaspina College in Nanaimo.
The Fire Thief
Set in the 1960s, The Fire Thief is the story of Sonny Wheeler, who grew up in a time of ’50s conformity that exploded into revolution, protest, and days of rage for many of his generation. When his mother remarries, teenaged Sonny moves with his new family to Danforth, Washington, a city that exists solely because of the nuclear power plant humming at its core.
This is the Cold War at its height: his stepfather is a nuclear engineer, his home is visited every month by FBI agents looking for Soviet spies, and the daughter of high school science teacher is named Marie Curie. Sonny’s only connection to the world outside this stifling city is his wild Aunt Alice, a lounge club singer who rejects all of the social norms of the age. Having fallen in love with the angst-ridden Karen, Sonny follows her descent into radicalism and joins the Weathermen, a revolutionary group dedicated to the overthrow of the state and the atomic utopia their parents had created. After staging the theft of plutonium from the nuclear plant, Sonny is forced to go on the run and seeks refuge in Las Vegas with his dying Aunt Alice. Having accidentally fathered a child, Sonny is torn between caring for his son and coming to terms with his own fatherless childhood. As he hides from the authorities and the effects of his drug use begin to catch up with him, Sonny Wheeler becomes a man searching for his moment of redemption.
Amidst startling imagery of a landscape littered with the effects of a nuclear age, Stephen Guppy presents us with the lonely ballad of a man trying to find his place in an increasingly confusing world. The Fire Thief is a thought-provoking novel of redemption about the bonds of family, the perils of radical politics, and the price of love.
...a masterful piece of storytelling, with well-drawn characters and imagined situations that seem all too real.
Guppy's narrative is conversational and accessible, and he successfully tackles the book's heavy subjects without being didactic.
...[a] powerful debut novel...Guppy sharply evokes character and milieu in dialogue and prose that are skilfully shaped.