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Nothing Left to Burn

a memoir

A deeply moving story of a young boy (and later, young man) struggling to get closer to his father — the fire chief, a local hero in the small Pennsylvania town in which they lived — who seemed never to be there when he needed him, and who died when he was still only a child. After college he returns home to work on the local newspaper and ends up exploring his blue-collar family's history with and fascination for fire; his father a fire chief; his grandfather a convicted arsonist; himself a reporter assigned to cover the local fire and accident news. Nothing Left to Burn is a memoir about the kinds of secrets' we don't even want to tell ourselves.

“Unadorned but vivid, Varner's coming-of-age story unravels family secrets about firefighting and arson. It's painful and poignant ... [Varner] reminds us that few lives, even those we think we know best, are easily understood.”

USA Today


“Varner’s memoir succeeds at many things: His writing is clean, crisp and brutally honest. He conveys the worn but dogged spirit of his hometown and its economic depression.”

Atlanta Journal Constitution


“At its core, the book is about the way we spend half our lives trying to understand the people who brought us into this world. The arsonist’s son became a fire chief, whose son became a writer to figure out them both. The return of Varner to his hometown to take care of his mother and cover the fire beat provides a neat generational tie-in.”

Time Out Chicago



“Varner traces a scorched circle of memory in this affecting memoir, looking to fire to both destroy and purify the past.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“The son reports on fires for the local paper. The dad fights fires for the city. The grandpa is a demented arsonist. That's before things start getting weird. Just do me a favor and read this book.”


John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead


“The flames of Nothing Left to Burn cast darkness as well as light, but Jay Varner has an eye for humanity reminiscent of the late Larry Brown, and redemption – startling and hollow-eyed but redemption nonetheless – is an ember that will not be put out.”


Michael Perry, author of Population 485 and Truck

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