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What do an Uzbekistan-bound American businessman and a drug-addled jazz pianist have in common? In The Fires, they’re both dead—and author Alan Cheuse forges a pair of novellas that hinge on the act of their cremation. In throwing their dead bodies to the flames, Cheuse channels the blue-blooded discontent of John Cheever but coats it with a thick layer of emotional talk. Below his tongue-in-cheek jabs at Bloody Marys, menopause, and New England academia, Cheuse grinds into the deep, neurotic grief of the victims’ widows, daughters, ex-husbands, and replacement wives. The challenge, of course, lies in striking the right balance between sympathy and mockery. Cheuse should know: He’s been crafting snappy, two-minute book reviews on NPR’s All Things Considered and teaching M.F.A. candidates at George Mason since the ’80s. The Fires is his latest attempt to score a good review of his own. Cheuse discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.