I’ve read a lot by Anita Shreve, mostly from about 20 years ago - when The Pilot’s Wife was popular, and long before I started writing reviews, or really caring that deeply about whether the books I read were any good.Those were the days of light reads, and fewer thoughts about them. Oh, the joys!
I picked up an oldie of hers from a second-hand shop a year ago - Fortune’s Rocks - and I couldn't stop talking about it. Even 17 years after publication, that book and her writing still packed a punch.
The Stars are Fire is her latest, and it tells the story of Grace, married to Gene, and their children - a little girl and a baby boy and a third on the way. The historical context is the the devastating fires in Maine in October 1947 and their impact on this little family and the community. Grace’s best friend and neighbour, Rosie has two little boys, and Grace and Rosie’s relationship is one of complete love and transparency.
The sense of place and the effect of the elements - “Wet”, then ”Dry”, then “Fire” - on the small town environment were so well written, I re-experienced them. Reading this while fires had only just stopped raging in Knysna was a little more harrowing and true to life than absolutely necessary.
Ultimately though, it is Shreve’s dealing with the emotional development of her characters - the women in particular - that had the most impact on me. You’ll start this book and be impressed by the writing, and drawn into the experience. What will keep you reading is the connection you will feel to Grace, and others - they’re real, true, deep and strong. In contrast, the “baddies” are a little light, which is to be expected, I suppose - fleshing out every single character costs many more pages.
This story of pain, of loss, of heartbreak, wrung my heart out. The moving forward to recovery, rebuilding and healing hung it out to dry. I loved it.
You may also enjoy Faithful by Alice Hoffman or Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott. Or try Fortune's Rocks, also by Anita Shreve or A Casualty of Grace by Lisa Brown.