Man tackles his fear of time in Alcorn’s “Fire”

For The Recorder
Friday, January 13, 2017

“Time is the Fire” by Alfred Alcorn (Pleasure Boat Studio, 218 pages, $17.95)

The figure around whom “Time is the Fire” blazes is Leopold Bloom O’Boyle. L.B., as he is called, was named after the main character in James Joyce’s modernist novel “Ulysses” by his late father, a Joyce scholar. Appropriately, “Time is the Fire” pays homage to “Ulysses.”

“Ulysses” followed the original Leopold Bloom through one day in Dublin in 1904. “Time is the Fire” follows Bloom’s namesake through a day in and around Harvard Square in Boston in 1992. Both books delve into the inner thoughts and the marriages of their heroes — and both exhibit quite a bit of humor.

“Time is the Fire” comes from the fertile pen of Alfred Alcorn of Colrain. It is his tenth novel. Alcorn took part in the Harvard literary scene in the early 1990s, and he uses his knowledge of place and personalities to flesh out L.B.’s story.

L.B. is at a crossroads in his life. He makes a living of sorts as a travel writer and would like to write a novel. Part of him wants to live up to his name and pen an updated “Ulysses.” Another part of him is hard at work on a science-fiction novel.

L.B. has a fear of time, that hard-to-pin-down medium through which we move hour by hour and day by day. This fear is exacerbated by the fact that his wife Annabel (named after another literary character, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”) is almost certainly pregnant.

Her looming pregnancy makes him wonder whether he is emotionally ready to be a father — and whether he can financially help support a child. As parenthood often does it also makes him ponder the overall trajectory of his life.

Like “Ulysses,” “Time is the Fire” takes a little getting used to. L.B. may strike the reader as a bit of an arrogant poseur, particularly at the book’s beginning. His mental and physical meanderings become increasingly appealing as the story progresses, however.

The plot of his projected science-fiction novel, “Ice Object 13,” offers several fun asides, as do the snippets Alcorn shares of the L.B.’s creative process in writing that book.

Ultimately, L.B. may not conquer his fear of time. He does learn to negotiate with it, however, as he comes to terms with the memory of his father, the dwindling life of his mother, the affection he feels for his wife, and the prospect of being a father.

He starts to grow up, jettisoning much of the superficiality that has defined him in the past without losing his creativity. Ultimately, then, Alfred Alcorn’s hero becomes a strong model for anyone trying to get through a day — or a life — with integrity.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.