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Smoke Damage is a work of narrative nonfiction whose heroine, a young mother raising children in a post-9/11 world, recounts growing up in circumstances where all that was stable and familiar change drastically, but in ways closer to home. When one parent retreats into chronic illness and alcoholism, the other takes on a secret lifestyle, leaving the narrator to cope with issues beyond her age More
"Smoke Damage" is a heartfelt chronicle about growing up on the suburban edge of a large city when life in the United States was still simple -- children spent the days roaming alleys and vacant lots unsupervised, building underground forts, visiting mom and pop stores to stock up on penny candy, engaging in harmless fistfights, and spending restless nights thrashing among damp sheets before the advent of air conditioning.
The protagonist, Kathy, in this novel is the daughter of a firefighter father and housekeeper mother whose lives are deceptively quiet. Their routines are interrupted by the sudden appearance of a single mom who introduces flashy clothes and her own sense of style and adventure.
As the father falls ill, the mother drifts away -- to her new job outside the home and her close woman friend -- leaving her two young daughters to cope with their emerging adolescence. The two teen-age girls experience feelings of powerlessness and resentment, as they try to cater to their father's illness, mood swings, and growing demands. It is not until their mother dies that they learn the secrets she buried away -- too late for them to share and draw closer to her, but at a time when they are old enough to sympathize rather than judge.
When the novel begins, Kathy is a young mother, herself, living and raising children in the town where she grew up -- but in a more upscale neighborhood. As an adult she revisits her childhood memories where events rapidly decline in both her family and environment: Her father’s chronic illness alters family life at the same time life outside her home changes. A once stable neighborhood becomes a risky place to live as long-time residents move out and transients, substance abusers and drug dealers move in.
As a mother Kathy is determined not to make the same mistakes her parents made in raising her own children, and yet not only does she fall into some of the same traps, but has to cope with a world in which many threatening changes are out of her control such as terrorist attacks, climate change, and a failing economy.