Lulu, $14.94, ISBN 978-1-4357-0626-2
Contemporary Fiction, 2007
One Foot in the Black is a firefighter story revolving around the angst, drama, triumphs, and failures in the life of 19-year old Greg Kowalski. The story alternates between flashbacks to the past and accounts of the present. Greg’s past isn’t exactly one that I haven’t come across in “man overcomes adversity” stories before – Greg had an abusive father whom he loathed as well as loved and the man’s death ate at Greg. Greg walked in his late father’s footstep to become a firefighter. Just the day after his father died, his confidence is further challenged by the death of his captain/father figure in a tragedy that saw the rest of his crew being trapped in what seems to be the barbecue of the year. If you want to describe the series of tragedy in Greg’s life as “melodrama”, I won’t disagree.
There are more, of course, but this slice of Greg’s life does come off too much like a pastiche of clichés from every other Young Man Triumphant drama I have come across. Nonetheless, what makes One Foot in the Black really interesting is the way Mr Kamm delves into the behind-the-scenes workings of a firefighting squad. The author has an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, given his background in the same world as his main character’s, so the technical information provided is most educational and feels very authentic.
Where Mr Kamm falters is his writing style, which affects considerably my ability to care for his characters. His prose is very stiff to read as there are too many short and even fragmented sentences with very little variation in sentence structure to keep things interesting. As a result, this makes the book a pretty dull read – there are many moments when the information dumping gives me this impression that this book is a technical manual masquerading as a novel. The subject matter of those lectures is interesting, but the writing is so dry and uninspired that I don’t blame anyone who gives up on the story.
Due to the dry prose, this book is probably better off read by folks with a keen interest in the subject matter of firefighting.