How to Start a Fire (Paperback)

By Lisa Lutz

Mariner Books, 9780544705180, 352pp.

Publication Date: May 17, 2016

List Price: 14.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


"How to Start a Fire will keep you captivated from beginning to end."--Town & Country

"Excellent . . . Over the course of the novel we come to know intimately these three complicated women."--Chicago Tribune

"Whip smart and cunning, deeply funny and profoundly moving . . . A knockout."--Megan Abbott, author of The Fever

When college roommates Anna and Kate find Georgiana Leoni passed out on a lawn, they wheel her to their dorm in a shopping cart. Twenty years later, they gather around a campfire at a New England mansion. What came between--the wild adventures, unspoken jealousies, and one night that changed everything--is the witty, poignant story of our strongest friendships, the people who know us better than we know ourselves. Anna is the de facto leader, as fearless as she is reckless. Quirky Kate is the loyal sidekick, until she's pushed too far. And stunning George is always desired, but just as frequently dumped. Alive with Lutz's crackling dialogue and propulsive storytelling, How to Start a Fire pulls us into the tangled bond shared by three intelligent, distinctive, and deeply real women and pays homage to the abiding, irrational love we have for the family we choose.

"Lutz joins the ranks of authors who write deeply and sensitively about the shadowy yet life-affirming terrain of female friendship."--Globe & Mail

"Lutz hits a home run in this glorious exploration of friendship . . . she] portrays three fully drawn, flawed, and compelling women with fresh insight into the mysterious terrain of female friendships--a mix of shared experiences, affection, empathy, jealousy, anger, and love."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

Conversation Starters from

  1. At different points throughout the novel, Anna, George, and Kate are given compelling reasons to go their separate ways. What keeps their friendship from disintegrating? What would it take to finally end the friendship?
  2. The question “Who are you?” recurs throughout the book, and there are many instances of shifting or mistaken identity. To what extent do the three friends define themselves in relation to each other? Do your own friends serve the same function?
  3. Kate seems most fulfilled when she is executing her Golden Retrieval mission—“roaming the country impersonating a woman named Sarah Lake and then giving money to complete strangers.” Why is this mission so important to her? Why doesn’t she keep the money, or donate it to charity? What would you do in her situation?
  4. “Most things I like aren’t good for me,” Anna says (p. 221). How does addictive or destructive behavior shape each of the three women’s lives—and their friendship?
  5. Anna seems to be the de facto leader of the group, but she’s also the one who gets into the worst trouble. Do her calamities prevent the three friends from becoming closer—or are they what keeps them together?
  6. On the girls’ first road trip together, Anna asks three questions: What song would your torturers play to drive you mad? How many hard-boiled eggs can you eat in one sitting? Who would you save in a fire, Keith Richards or Pete Townshend? Come up with three ridiculous questions you might ask a new friend on a road trip.
  7. Do you surround yourself with the people you have the most in common with, or do your relationships thrive on differences?
  8. By the end of the 21 years covered by the novel, which character has changed the most? The least?
  9. “As she grew older and older, Anna found more and more things to envy in Kate.” (p. 302) What does Kate have that Anna and George lack?
  10. Which of the three main characters do you identify with the most? Or if you see yourself as more of a composite, how would you quantify it (30% Anna, 20% Kate, 40% George, 10% None of the Above)?
  11. If you were George or Kate, would you have told Anna that she left the door open? Why or why not?