In his novel, The Signal Flame, Andrew Krivák guides us through the year 1972 in the life of a Slovak family in rural Pennsylvania as they anxiously await news about Sam, a Vietnam marine reported MIA. The disciplined and quiet elder brother, Bo, is left to care for his widowed mother, Hannah, and his brother’s fiancé, Ruth, in the wake of their grandfather’s sudden death, and takes possession of the family land and milling business. The story traces generations of dreaming and heartbreak, love and tragedy with a rustic earthiness on a foot-journey pace. You can taste the sawdust and smell the pine shavings as the family grieves and hopes together.
Krivák writes with a style that is almost hypnotic. The lack of quotation marks for the dialogue gives the reader a kind of omniscience, blurring the line between the character’s thoughts and narrator’s voice—which could be disastrous, but Krivák executes the style so masterfully that it creates a powerful immersion experience. The story has a seasonal ebb and flow of longing and waiting that tracks with the mountainous forests that the envelop the Konar family home. These are characters you will not soon forget, and will wish you could check in on from time to time over the coming winters and summers of the Pennsylvania wilderness.
My rating: 4/5
A review copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher. Forthcoming: January 2017.