By Dave Teeuwen
Burning Ground is Calgary native Pearl Luke’s first novel. As a short novel, it is decidedly conservative but a good effort.
The story centres around a fire scout for the Northern Alberta forestry department named Percy.
Secluded in her fire tower at Envy River for the seventh season, Percy reflects on her life thus far.
Within the novel there are four sections that take place either at the fire tower or in the trailer park of Percy’s childhood. The trailer park section of the book, a collection of memories, is probably the strongest. However, it lacks the in-depth examination required to adequately create a believable background for Percy.
The other sections revolve around Percy’s growing fascination with another fire scout whom she has never met named Gilmore. Another conflict involves her inner struggle over whether or not to continue a relationship with her best friend and serious love interest Marlea.
For all its promise, Burning Ground is filled with a number of flaws. Unfortunately, the setting’s description is unexciting. There is too much attention paid to Percy’s daily routine and not enough to her past. Such a setting could be perfect for unravelling the character’s past, as she ruminates over past mistakes and victories. But these elements are far too sparse in a novel of this size, and so the reader is left to decide whether they even care about Percy.
Size is also a problem with this novel. Luke attempts a large subject, but leaves out too much. This book is not very dense, though it tries to be. When the novel ends, the reader is not left wondering about Percy’s future because so little of her past has been examined. For instance, the novel ends at a lake near the fire tower, where an underground fire has been burning for many weeks. This is a fascinating subject for Percy, which she continually comments on. Yet Luke does not devote many pages to this interest, and so the reader is left in the dark. If Percy really finds meaning in this act of nature, it is hard to believe.
This issue could simply have been alleviated by adding at least 100 more pages. Though a short novel can be unbelievably beautiful, it must be more concise and succinct than Burning Ground. Short novels are difficult and this one’s subject demands far more ink and paper.
Burning Ground is not a bad novel, but it is limited. Luke will likely write more significant work in the future. She definitely has a style that commands respect while still being fairly accessible. However, she must challenge the reader more if she wants to achieve higher quality.