"The Stars are Fire"

Today we welcome a new reviewer, Patricia Sainz, a retired public school librarian who enjoys historical fiction and biographies. Pat writes for MO Books to “give back,” in appreciation of review copies that are passed along to her. She said she is looking forward to the learning and joy obtained inherent upon reading a new book available through MO Books.

In Maine, the year 1947 is known as “the year the state burned.” Fire during a drought ignited 850 homes, destroyed seasonal cottages, and left 2,500 people homeless. Half of Acadia Park was burned and the millionaires’ mansions along Bar Harbor were ruined. Anita Shreve uses this historical context to develop her newest book, “The Stars Are Fire.”

Grace Holland, a dissatisfied wife and mother of two young children, lives in a small, poorly built house close to the coastal waters of Maine where lobstermen make their dangerous living in frigid waters. Grace’s husband, Gene, however, works as a surveyor and engineer on the Maine Turnpike project. His elevated position leads him to believe, as it does his mother, that he has married beneath him, which explains his disdainful and sometimes cruel attitude toward Grace. His very wealthy mother does nothing to help the family in its struggle against hard living and discomfort.

In October 1947, after months of relentless heat, the fire begins and burns for two weeks. Men, including Gene, volunteer to try to contain the fire as is begins swallowing up houses and forests in its path. (The chapters in this book are each a single word such as Wet, Spark, Fire, Cinder that describe the chronological build-up to this devastation.)

Grace saves her children by lying in frigid ocean water overnight, protecting them with her cloak from the sparks that fly relentlessly overhead. Tragedy strikes amidst her efforts, and her life changes forever.

Shreve again, as in “The Pilot’s Wife,” “Fortune’s Rock,” “A Change of Altitude,” and her other books, portrays a brave, resilient, independent woman who, as much as the times allow, literally arises from the ashes to save those she loves and do what needs to be done.

The reader may want to beg her to slough off the cruel, violent, and demanding needs of others, but one must remember that times for women were not the same as they are now. Set in a modern age, Grace’s actions would likely be entirely different.

The few characters introduced in the book all have a profound effect on Grace. Nobody is superfluous. Once again, Shreve has written of a strong female character whose loyalty, love and intelligence literally save her life. Fans of Anita Shreve will welcome her newest novel.