By Leah Greenblatt
Updated April 13, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

In Because a Fire Was in My Head‘s final pages, Lynn Stegner offers a succinct take on her captivating, confounding protagonist: ”Hers was a life of insatiability, of infinite lack.” After the premature death of her father, Kate Riley develops a voracious appetite for male affection. As she ricochets from WWII-era Saskatchewan to postwar Vancouver to free-love Santa Barbara, the relentless pursuit of men — despite its unfortunate by-product, offspring — becomes both her driving force and fatal flaw. With bracing prose, Stegner turns a potential monster into a character both fascinating and pitiable; you may hate Kate, but you won’t want to leave her.