Stars of Marvel’s ‘The Defenders,’ Mike Colter and Krysten Ritter say working on the TV show felt like a high school reunion and that there were often battles to outdo one another. (August 9) AP
The most burning question surrounding Krysten Ritter’s literary debut isn’t whether there will be any interest in her efforts. She’s already got legions of fans from her starring role in Marvel’s Jessica Joneson Netflix and her memorable turn in AMC’s Breaking Bad.
So, yes, it’s a given that Ritter will have an enthusiastic audience waiting for an autographed copy of Bonfire (Crown Archetype, 276 pp., ★★½ out of four) when the actress/producer/former model/now author kicks off her book tour this month.
The question isn’t even whether Ritter is a capable writer. (She is.) The question is whether readers will really even care or notice that Bonfire isn’t so much a psychological thriller as it is a steady march of go-to tropes.
The story’s protagonist, Abby Williams, has so much in common with the anti-hero superhero/hot mess Ritter frequently plays on screen — which both works as an advantage and disadvantage in Bonfire — you feel you already know her.
Abby is returning to her rural hometown of Barrens, Indiana, a place she has spent every day of the past 10 years (post-high school graduation) trying to forget and literally scrub away. But now her work, and her past, are calling her back.
“Barrens has its roots in me,” Abby tells us. “If I want it gone forever, I’ll have to cut them out myself.” (And, in case you forget, Abby will tell you again and again in a narrative style that seems like it should always be preceded by the words “Dear Diary.”)
Abby is an environmental lawyer in Chicago. She’s a success but she’s not happy. She’s still haunted by the mean girls who tormented her, the boy whose kiss may or may not have been real, the death of her mom, her abusive dad, and every kind of dysfunctional side effect suffocating small-town life has to offer. (“All I know is that Barrens broke something inside of me,” Abby explains. “It warped the needles on my compass and turned the south to north and lies to truth and vice versa.”)
But more than anything else, Abby is fixated on what happened to her close friend Kaycee Mitchell, the bad girl (or was she just troubled?) who disappeared in the wake of a major scandal. As expected with the turn of each page of Bonfire, it turns out there may be a connection between what became of Kaycee and what’s going on with Optimal Plastics, the big, bad company that more or less owns Barrens.
And the deeper Abby digs into the polluted business of Optimal (in between her too-many drinks, hookups and near-hookups), the closer she gets to the ugly truth about Barrens and an evil ritual known as “The Game.”
If it all sounds familiar, it should. There’s never, in fact, an unfamiliar moment in Bonfire. One minute it’s Mean Girls, the next it’s Friday Night Lights, Twin Peaks, True Blood, you name it.
Unfortunately, by the time Ritter is finished, the story is officially old and tired. More Jessica Fletcher than Jessica Jones.