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I had just finished writing about a reforestation effort in Boulder’s Fourmile Canyon when I started reading Among the Lesser Gods. In all the time I spent studying the damage a fire can impose on ecosystems, homes, and nearby inhabitants, I had not thought about what a fire might mean for the person who started it. And that’s just what Margo Catts’ debut novel explores.
The story’s main character, Elena Alvarez, accidentally started a fire as a child. The flames would kill a woman and her two children, and forever alter Elena’s own life. (In her acknowledgement of the book, Catts notes the inspiration for Among the Lesser Gods was a newspaper clipping about a fire in the Colorado mountains started by young kids.) Elena struggles after graduating college, and her grandmother Tuah (my favorite wisdom-dropper) senses this and convinces her to move to Leadville for the summer.
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Catts’ version of Leadville is spot-on. Her descriptions of the mining town tell the story of a small mountain town cloaked in myths, rumors, ghost stories—but above all, caring people. Elena’s time in Leadville is layered with strange hurdles and family tragedy. The story is captivating, and each character is purposefully drawn onto the page. By dealing with the question of what happens to children who make life-altering mistakes, she deals with a number of big themes, including family, hope, redemption, and forgiveness. Though the book sometimes felt over-the-top in its profound quotes on life’s lessons, the exceptionally crafted story kept me reading to the end.
I’ll leave you with one drop of Catts’ wisdom through the voice of Tuah: “‘Beauty from ashes, right here. Tragedy and blessing. Leave them alone long enough, and it gets real hard to tell them apart.'”
Among the Lesser Gods is available for purchase at local bookstores and online.