Love, Life, and Letters: White-Knuckled Noir in “How To Set Yourself On Fire”

by Jerome Spencer

“I can’t remember the last time I cried. But I can remember the first time I definitely didn’t.”

In the literary world, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” is what they call a page turner. Gripping in its terseness, Julia Dixon Evans’ novel has the pull of a crime-noir without the crime. And instead of a two-dimensional protagonist with a murky past, it boasts a fully developed anti-hero whom invokes unrestrained empathy. And, like all good noir, there’s still plenty of moral ambiguity.

The novel’s mystery centers around its narrator, Sheila, and a newfound fixation on a box of love letters addressed to her recently deceased grandmother. Sheila becomes intertwined with her one-sided perspective of the love affair as her life continues to fall apart around her. She befriends her neighbor and his twelve year-old daughter, reluctantly and haphazardly filling in as a surrogate mother. As the mystery unfolds and the past collides with the present, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” pulls the reader along, white-knuckled and wide-eyed.

The novel’s emotional levity relies on its economy of language. Cramming 56 chapters into 306 pages; each paragraph is entirely necessary, each sentence gets straight to the point and, more often than not, it hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that it burns. The emotion is inexorable while the humor is palpable and the story is skillfully acute. “How to Set Yourself” on Fire could almost be a “beach-read” if it were more acceptable to cry on the beach.

The novel’s ending, while unpredictable, is not surprising; showcasing Julia Dixon Evans’ aptitude for foreshadowing and character development while avoiding the always unsolicited “plot-twist”. Too honest for answered questions and resolutions all tied up in a pretty bow, “How to Set Yourself on Fire” is noir about the disarray of existence and the mystery of everyone around us. And it nails it.


“Animals Eat Each Other” Finds Sympathy in Shitty People

by Jerome Spencer

“I thought about how entropy seemed to be the natural state of the universe. How everything was coming apart, all the time, while also desperately trying to stay together.”

There are so many moments, passages and insights In Elle Nash’s powerful short novel, Animals Eat Each Other, that it’s easy to get lost in the story and forget to breath. It’s a penetrating account of a young girl’s three-way relationship with a volatile couple; A relationship so unyielding that the young girl’s real name gets lost in the surrender as the couple dubs her “Lilith.” This isn’t some quaint story about an innocent victim tormented by a Marilyn Manson-obsessed white trash couple, though. Animals Eat Each Other is a shadowy exploration of obsession, manipulation and the ruins of love and sexuality (even deeper, the fine line between the latter two). The stripped-down prose cuts through the clutter and the façade and tears you open like a dull, serrated steak knife.

Nash writes with precision and passion, narrating the tale like a retrospective and a confessional diary. Her insights are sharp and honest, exploring her own thought process with an almost bemused culpability yet showing little to no regret or remorse. Not to imply that she should feel any type of guilt, per se. Not one character in this book is what you’d call a “good person” by any standard. What they are, though, are real, complex and fully-developed people that illicit something resembling compassion and empathy. What Nash has done with this book is weave a story about shitty people doing shitty things to other shitty people that is somehow relatable and sympathetic, forcing its reader to exist in that hazy place in which right and wrong are subjective and perspective is the biggest lie and the only truth.

Animals Eat Each Other is dark, sexy and astute, the writing so concise and raw that it makes reading such heavy subject matter seem easy and intrusive. Nash’s evocative and intuitive prose pushes the story along, creating atmosphere and suspense. It’s like that train wreck in slow-motion cliché, but the beauty in this chaos that much more relevant and much more rewarding once you dig for it.

Monthly Mix: Milky$hake


“When you mentioned 2000s R&B love songs, I knew almost immediately the route I wanted to go,” said NYC DJ Khloe Gatmaitan, aka MILKY$HAKE. Originally from VB, she moved to NYC to pursue a career in fashion merchandising. There she started spinning more seriously, and has played feminine, flirty tracks at clubs a-plenty & beauty conferences for Ipsy, NYX, and others.

She went and above and beyond for this romantic mix of nostalgic and soulful songs, just in time for Valentine’s Day. This 35-minute set is oficially titled “Kiss Me Slowly” Peep her wonderful album art for the full tracklist!