The Stars are Fire
Anita Shreve
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The Stars are Fire
Anita Shreve
256 pages
April 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Stars are Fire.

An historical event sets the stage for a young motherís collision with fate: a tragic fire that spreads through Maine in 1947 after a long drought. Two blocks from the coast, Grace Holland tends to the needs of husband Gene and their small children, Tom and Claire, recently aware that she is pregnant again. Though her marriage lacks emotional intimacy, Gene is a good provider, still grieving over the recent death of his mother. There is also an easy friendship with neighbors Rosie and Tim. Rosie has two small children as well, a messy house and a carefree personality that soothes any rough edges Grace may be having at home. No one in Hunts Beach is prepared for the brutal drought that leaches moisture from the soil and turns plants to brittle twigs. Word of fire spreads anxiety through the town. With flames on the horizon and the fire moving fast, Gene and Tim volunteer to make fire breaks.

Grace and Rosie keep vigil, but when the raging flames arrive, the women carry their children to the shore, Grace trying to keep them safe as near to the water as humanly possible. They barely survive, but all are rescued when Tim returns. Gene does not return, leaving Grace alone with her two small children, all her possessions destroyed, Hunts Beach burnt to the ground. Grace accepts the help of strangers, finally reunited with her mother, Marjorie, whose two best friends have given her shelter. After accepting the shelter for a while, Grace and her mother decide to travel to the home of Geneís dead mother, hoping it has survived extinction. Grace hopes Gene will find them there, refusing to believe he is dead.

From catastrophe to survival, Shreve builds her tale on the tragedy of a young family forced to start anew. Now head of the family, Grace adapts to a future thrust on her and no word of her husband. Grateful that her mother-in-lawís Victorian home is untouched by the fire, Grace claims it for her family--and all the responsibilities that come with that decision. After so much loss, the luxury of a wealthy womanís home is an unexpected gift. Grace is prepared to get a job and provide security in another womanís domain, a woman who never cared for her daughter-in-law. The contrast between past and present is starkly rendered, the protagonistís physical surroundings as well as emotional adjustment beautifully articulated. Grace gains strength, a sense of independence, the children blooming with their grandmotherís care, the possibility of Geneís death more likely each day.

With the speed of the fire that so drastically changed her former life, Grace is confronted with yet another upheaval, her plans made moot as the road ahead changes direction, her fragile new identity unable to support the weight of a new challenge. Her world so casually destroyed by fire, destiny returns to claim its victim with brutal authority, the slow denial of autonomy. A faint spark still burning in her heart, Grace is in need of courage. Although events evolve over a relatively brief space of time, this heartbreaking tale is built on tragedy, the capriciousness of joy and the ruthlessness of chance.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2017

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