Title: The Stars Are Fire
Author: Anita Shreve
Publisher: Little Brown UK
In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort.
The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens–and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.
The Stars Are Fire is a wonderfully written, touching story of life during the post-war 1940’s, and how traumatic events can either make or break someone.
I really liked the main character, Grace, who is a strong and likeable woman. Her married life is not unhappy, as such, but she feels like something is missing between them. She’s not completely happy, but happy enough, until…
The fire that rips through their house (and almost kills her and her children) seems to have taken husband Gene with it, in some way. His absence (or perhaps death?) leaves Grace without a husband and her children without a father, but without the ability to properly grieve for him, because his body is missing.
Gene can be mean, spiteful and quite nasty at times – but he has been through hell, and Grace herself wrestles with feeling hatred towards him and pity for what he has – and is – going through. Grace is such a great character and I really enjoyed reading about her, willing her to stand up to her husband.
The story is not action-packed; I’d describe it as a bit of a slow burner but without leaving me feeling bored or uninterested. It’s a story that feels real, and could be someone’s life. I love reading books set in in WW1/ WW2 or just after. In this novel there’s no unnecessary drama or ridiculous occurrences – what happens no doubt reflects life for many women at that time, plus the fire in Maine did really happen. You feel as if you’re really getting a glimpse into women’s lives during that time, and the constraints and expectations they faced from all angles.
The Stars Are Fire is sad and poignant at times, whilst at others there are real hints of hope and optimism – mirroring the ups and downs that many feel in their lives. This is definitely a story more about characters and their feats of strength or despair, rather than just about a chain of events.
There’s a strong element of love – and at times, a lack of love – to the story, which I really enjoyed reading about – romance is not a single genre I read a lot of, but Anita Shreve has created something touching and really absorbing here without any of the cheesiness that I sometimes expect from the genre.
The descriptions are vivid and the writing is beautiful, making this a slow but satisfying story.- and something a little different for me.
Many thanks to Little Brown UK for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.