Maybe it’s because Jesse isn’t all that different from me, choosing fire as his medium, needing to know that he could command at least one uncontrollable thing.

Brian has this thought in the section he narrates on the second Monday in the novel, when he confronts Jesse about Jesse’s acts of arson. Both Brian and Jesse recognize the same traits in fire that they see in Kate’s cancer. To them, both represent destructive and uncontrollable forces. As a result, both regard fire as a substitute for Kate’s cancer (although neither Brian nor Jesse says so explicitly, Brian’s career as a firefighter appears to have been the catalyst for Jesse’s preoccupation with fire, or at least informs it to a large degree). Brian realizes that he and Jesse view fire in the same way, and although Brian disagrees with Jesse’s actions, he feels that he understands them. Consequently, when Brian discovers that Jesse has been setting the fires all over the city, he tells Jesse he knows about the arson but does not punish him.

Despite the fact that Brian and Jesse both regard fire in this way, their relationships to fire differ drastically. Brian, as a firefighter, regularly works to put fires out and often saves people who have become trapped in burning buildings. Similarly, Brian steadily battles Kate’s cancer and does what he can to keep her alive. Although he knows he cannot control the fires he fights anymore than he can control Kate’s cancer, he recognizes that he can do things to control at least the outcomes of these situations. Jesse, on the other hand, feels that he has no power at all against Kate’s cancer. Specifically, he feels that because he is not a genetic match for Kate and cannot serve as a donor, he can do nothing to help Kate. He can only watch idly as Kate dies. The guilt and futility that Jesse feels as a result turn into a destructive—and often self-destructive—rage, which Jesse expresses by setting fires.