We share Frankie's life as she struggles to figure out what her next step should be. While she's found great satisfaction in the work, she realizes that it creates an environment that lends itself to transient relationships. "The work itself was part of what .... ended [relationships]. But it also began them. The extremity of it, the absorption in it, the fatigue, the high. The charge that passed among people laboring together in such hard circumstances, such challenging ones. The wish to take pleasure where you could, the sense that you needed it, that you had somehow earned it. Most of the people Frankie worked with felt this way. They joked about it, actually, they used it as a kind of aphrodisiac." Perhaps, though, she's ready for a more lasting connection.
Bud accepts Frankie's feelings for the honest emotions that they are. After all, he has his own "sneaky pleasure." He is a bit excited--from a journalistic perspective--about the fires. Bud admits to Frankie that, "When I first realized that the fires were likely arson, I was happy." "Happy? Why?" "Why not? I yam what a yam, a newspaper guy, and it's a good story. I've had other papers picking it up from the AP, the stuff I'm doing right now, and the worse it gets, the longer it lasts, the more that kind of stuff will happen. If it gets really bad, some prize committee may sit up and take notice." Again, Miller's characters aren't afraid to talk about feelings one wouldn't typically share with others (assuming they were honest enough to admit them to themselves).
And so it goes throughout the book. Each of the primary characters--Frankie, Bud and Frankie's mother Sylvia--is at a juncture in his or her life that coincides with--and has some connection to--the fires. And, as is often the case in real life, their stories end and their issues resolve (along with the question of the identity of the arsonist) without being wrapped up in a neat little package.
I love Miller's writing, not only her willingness to acknowledge the complicated emotions of adult life, but also her ability to tell a good story. Having read her last four novels, I'm looking forward to reading her earlier work. Perhaps I'll even return to where it all started, with The Good Mother. So many good authors to read, so little time.