The Stars Are Fire
In post-World War II Maine, Grace Holland is a fairly typical twenty-something wife and mother. Her husband Gene, a local surveyor, is a good provider for their young family, which includes Claire, almost two years old; five-month-old Tom; and soon, a new addition as Grace is pregnant with her third child, which makes her more listless than ecstatic.
Spending time with dear friend and neighbor Rosie, and hearing stories of her passionate relationship with her husband, leaves Grace feeling inadequate about hers. She believes Gene to be a good man but is perhaps too coarse and too rough around the edges to leave her feeling loved and valued. She has never enjoyed their intimate moments, which she has come to believe are strictly for the man’s pleasure and for procreation, and is forced to admit that she is in a loveless marriage. Grace is grateful to have Rosie as a trusted confidante in matters such as these and treasures their afternoons together.
But in the fall of 1947, a devastating event changes everything. In October, after a summer-long drought, brush fires start breaking out along the Maine coast, building to a devastating crescendo of destruction. Grace is left alone to protect her young family, while Gene is off with the other townsmen trying to keep the flames at bay. It quickly becomes clear that she and her neighbors must evacuate their homes. Luckily, Grace is armed with a little fire safety knowledge and instructs her children, and Rosie and her young family, to lie down in the sand at the ocean’s edge and stay there until it is safe. When they are rescued hours later, they come ashore to find their town completely annihilated by the fire.
"Fans of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS and OLIVE KITTERIDGE will enjoy this engrossing story of one woman’s ordeal that ends up being the catalyst that proves to herself and those around her just how strong she really is."
Grace is immediately taken to the local hospital as it’s clear her unborn baby is in distress. In the melee, she has lost sight of Rosie and her family, and Grace’s children are taken in by people from the next town whose house was one of the very few to survive the fire. Despite all attempts to avoid the inevitable, Grace loses the baby. Adding to her heartbreak, she hasn’t heard from Gene. In the days after the fire, she is released from the hospital and is taken in by the kindly couple who is caring for her children. Still there is no sign of her husband. Did he perish in the fire, or is he in a nearby hospital, unable to reach out to her?
Grace has no time to contemplate his fate because she must start a new life for her children and herself. Luckily, her mother, who lives a few towns away, managed to escape the flames that engulfed her home. They join forces and decide they should take over Grace’s mother-in-law’s house, even though the woman, who recently passed away due to breast cancer, never liked Grace or thought she was good enough for her son. But since Grace is the head of the family now, she decides that if Gene were there, he wouldn’t hesitate in taking over the house for his homeless family.
Upon inspecting the enormous Victorian house, Grace hears faint piano music coming from the second floor. She discovers a young musician, Aidan Berne, also recently displaced due to the fire, who thought the house was vacant and decided to take refuge there. Rather than fear this stranger, Grace decides to let Aidan stay, as it would be helpful to have a man around in Gene’s absence. But as she spends more time with this charming fellow, Grace begins pondering a new life for herself--- one in which she is not just Gene Holland’s wife. But before she can fully embark on this brave new road, the past rears its head with staggering results.
In THE STARS ARE FIRE, which is based on a true story, Anita Shreve revisits a popular theme of hers --- that of an ordinary woman who must face extraordinary hardship and mine strength she never knew she possessed. Grace is forced to pick up the pieces of her charred life and make a new one for her young family after having lost nearly everything. Shreve harrowingly recreates the fire and its destruction, and keeps the reader riveted to each passage as we witness Grace literally “rise from the ashes” to begin anew. Fans of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS and OLIVE KITTERIDGE will enjoy this engrossing story of one woman’s ordeal that ends up being the catalyst that proves to herself and those around her just how strong she really is.
Shreve opens the novel with an epigram from Shakespeare’s HAMLET, which provides the title and demonstrates Hamlet’s unshakeable love for Ophelia: “Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.” Similarly, the reader should never doubt what a woman pressed will do to save her family.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on April 19, 2017