Novel of Seattle fire explores city's underbelly

Wed Jun 15, 2011 10:50am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - After the great Seattle fire of 1889 sweeps through and destroys the city, two women from very different backgrounds form an uneasy alliance and set out on the road to a complicated revenge.

Their story, and the uninhibited world of the burlesque theater that is the backdrop of "City of Ash," are all shaped and shadowed by Seattle, a city that author Megan Chance feels has a bit of a dark side -- and one that until quite recently had only a relatively small presence in fiction compared to other U.S. cities.

"I think there's kind of an interesting underbelly to Seattle, and all the rain and the darkness and the being inside a lot only heightens that feeling," she said.

"For a very long time it was mostly that kind of place, a decadent, underbelly sort of place. It wasn't set up by the upper class, it was set up by the working class, and I think that has a lot to do with it as well."

Seattle itself is very nearly another character in the book, which tells the story of socialite Geneva and Beatrice, an actress, who struggles for center stage in a local theater until the Seattle conflagration -- set off when a pot of glue boiled over and caught fire -- throws them together.

Chance, who moved to Seattle from Ohio in childhood, said inspiration for the tale came to her after she accompanied her daughters on multiple school tours to the Seattle Underground, several passages and basements that were ground level before the fire and subsequent regrading of the city's downtown area.

"I just found myself fascinated by it -- not the fire so much, but the aftermath," she said.

"The interesting thing is that there aren't very many books written about the Seattle fire. In fact, I found only one, long out of print and actually no more than 100 pages."   Continued...