A lone white man lives beside the river on the edge of the Penobscot reservation in Maine. Charles spends his days doing odd jobs, looking after his mother as her lifelong depression intensifies, and staring across the water to the reservation, at the house in which his daughter has grown up. Elizabeth, his daughter, doesn’t know he exists.
Charles spent his own childhood on the same reservation, with a Native stepfather who treated him as his son – until tragedy struck, leaving a burning hole at the centre of their lives. As an adult Charles was forced to leave the reservation. When his first love Mary found out she was pregnant, she decided to conceal their daughter’s true heritage, in order to ensure Elizabeth’s tribal enrollment.
In her twenties now, Elizabeth is struggling. Observed from afar by her real father, who can see the connection between his daughter and his mother, the cracks in the foundations of Elizabeth’s life are beginning to show. As firmly as Charles believes the truth will set them all free, the price of it may be the destruction of them all.
Fire Exit is a novel of exceptional heart. It’s a deeply layered story of family and blood ties; full of quiet, beautiful, and dignified sentences, it shows us intergenerational connections from all angles, and their capacity to break, reform, fade, or strengthen, while always remaining a part of us.