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Signal Fires Bets On...

Signal Fires

December 2022

Is it possible that SIGNAL FIRES is the first Dani Shapiro book that I have read? It definitely has me scrambling to see what else I have missed. But before I do, let me tell you why I am betting on this book, which completely grabbed me from the start and held me through 200 pages of characters and plot.

The book is set on Division Street, a quiet suburban block in Westchester County, New York. As it opens in 1985, there is an accident that will forever change the brother and sister who were in the car when it happened --- a terrible tragedy where a young woman died. And the first secret is laid out. From there, we delve deeply into the lives of two families who are neighbors. The accident happens on a night when Sarah Wilf has had too much to drink, and she tosses her car keys to her younger brother, Theo, so he can drive. Their passenger in the front seat is Misty Zimmerman, who dies when Theo loses control and hits an oak tree on the front lawn of their house. The family pledges to keep secret that Theo was driving. But the guilt that the teens feel will be something that they carry with them.

They move on with their lives. Sarah becomes a Hollywood producer, married to a man who has less luck in Tinseltown as her star rises. She drinks too much and risks the life she knows with a relationship that could ruin her. She has a set of twins, but her life is uneven, if there is such a thing. Theo drops out of college and spends time bumming around South America, making money working in restaurants. He comes back to the States and opens two restaurants. I loved that one is so exclusive that people try everything to get in.

Back on Division Street, life moves on for the elder Wilfs. Benjamin is a doctor, and Mimi is the doctor’s wife. Oh, and on the night of the accident, Benjamin does wonder if he made a mistake in treating Misty at the accident site.

Across the street, the Shenkmans move in. On New Year’s Eve 1999, Alice Shenkman goes into labor. Benjamin steps in to help, and Waldo is born on the kitchen floor. He is a precocious child who is clearly somewhere “on the spectrum,” obsessed with the sky and all of its constellations. His parents have no idea what to do with him. Waldo takes matters into his own hands when he turns 11 and leaves home one night with his dad’s iPad in hand, looking to feel the freedom of watching the sky. Something happens that night to further bond these two families together. In Benjamin, Waldo finds someone who really listens to him. He is a guiding star here on earth, giving Waldo something that his parents do not deliver --- an ear to listen to him.

If these people lived anywhere but on this street, they most likely never would have met. We get to know more about them in a mere 200 pages. There is not a single bloated page, but characters and ideas that will stay with you. Book groups, there is a lot to discuss here!

Signal Fires
by Dani Shapiro

  • Publication Date: October 24, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0593467965
  • ISBN-13: 9780593467961