Cover image for The Stars Are Fire
Title:
The Stars Are Fire

A Novel
Author:
Shreve, Anita
Subject:
Fiction
Romance
Thriller
Historical Fiction
Description:
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLERFrom the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot's Wife (an Oprah's Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath—based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine's history 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.
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Vintage
Date:
2017/04/18
Digital Format:
Adobe EPUB

HTML

Kindle
Language:
English

Summary

Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Weight of Water and The Pilot's Wife (an Oprah's Book Club selection): an exquisitely suspenseful new novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event and its devastating aftermath--based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine's history

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.


Author Notes

Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts. After receiving a bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University, she taught high school English for five years before becoming a full-time author. She worked for an English-language magazine in Nairobi and wrote for everything from Cosmopolitan magazine to The New York Times. Her nonfiction books included Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone. Her novels included Eden Close, Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, Fortune's Rocks, Rescue, Stella Bain, and The Stars are Fire. Several of her books were made into movies including The Pilot's Wife, Resistance, and The Weight of Water. She died from cancer on March 29, 2018 at the age of 71.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Stuck in a loveless and uncommunicative marriage with her husband, Gene, young housewife and mother Grace Holland has resigned herself to a future of childcare and housework. It's just after World War II, and there aren't many other opportunities for married women in coastal Maine. But when, after a summer-long drought, a massive fire breaks out and threatens her home and community, Grace may have an unexpected chance not only to rebuild but also to rewrite her personal narrative. Shreve (Stella Bain) writes with fondness of the coastal New England landscape, and she provides plenty of vintage details to evoke postwar life. Characterizations, however, are less convincing; Gene's cruelty to Grace seems disproportionate to its purported rationale, and the novel's final pages feel implausible and anachronistic, even given Grace's newfound self-reliance. Nevertheless, many readers will be buoyed by Grace's strength and resourcefulness and will be eager to debate the ethical decisions she makes as she seizes her independence. 200,000-copy announced first printing. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

After the wettest spring in memory, the summer of 1947 is dry and scorching in coastal Maine. Grace welcomes the long days that allow her to get out with her two young children, but at home, they only heighten the turbulence in her struggling marriage. Life changes overnight when wildfires sweep down the coast, destroying everything in their path. Through a terror-filled night, Grace manages to save herself and her children, but by morning, their home is gone and her husband is missing. With little education or job experience, Grace takes a risk by moving her family to a new town and taking work where she can find it. She thrives in her new surroundings, but rebuilding one's life does not mean that the past won't find you. Though the characters lack dimension, best-selling Shreve's (Stella Bain, 2013) portrayal of a community in a natural disaster is on point, and Grace's self-discovery in her time of need is genuine. Ultimately, this is a suspenseful and heartwarming story of not just overcoming but also growing in the face of great difficulty. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A robust print run, avid publicity, and an author tour will drum up interest in Shreve's latest page-turner.--Ophoff, Cortney Copyright 2017 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

IN OCTOBER 1947 more than 200,000 acres of Maine burned, including half of Acadia National Park. Nine towns were destroyed. The disaster was a myth in the making, a series of events sufficiently violent to feed anyone's dark imagination, where it could emerge as one giant, terrifying fireball, with Maine as the unfortunate target. In truth, though, these were fires plural, 200 of them, erupting almost as if timed but fed by what can only be considered bad timing: drought, unusually high winds, random carelessness. Maine was a birthday cake, lit everywhere. Forest fires became town fires, even coastal fires, with some people forced to the ocean's edge. In Bar Harbor, they were evacuated by fishing boats. The historical record of their travails is a literary opportunist's delight; it's surprising it took a novelist this long to pounce. Anita Shreve's "The Stars Are Fire" is the swiftly paced if occasionally soppy saga of a young mother, Grace Holland, who loses her home and nearly her life that October. The so-called Great Fires are a good fit for Shreve, who has repurposed Maine history before to best-selling effect in "The Weight of Water," where she gave a fictional spin (and twist) to an 1873 double homicide on Smuttynose Island. (Kathryn Bigelow directed an adaptation, a mystifying stinker of a film.) When "The Stars Are Fire" begins in a rainy spring, Grace is only 23 and already has two children with her husband, Gene, a surveyor working on the new Maine Ttirnpike. They live in a place Shreve calls Hunts Beach, which from all the geographic clues sounds very close to Fortune's Rocks, the setting for four of her previous novels. The emotional territory is familiar as well. Grace doesn't have an ideal marriage. As she reminds herself, Gene is handsome, a good provider and "enthralled" with their son and daughter. But he's either a clumsy, rough lover or, as his wife suspects, "deeply troubled." Neither Grace nor Shreve seems to have decided which that might be; he's a boogeyman trotted out for convenience. Shreve wastes little time getting to the fire itself, which arrives as a reddish glow on the western horizon before the end of the book's first quarter. It's a dynamic, vivid scene. While Grace rushes to the beach to take cover with her best friend and their children, Gene is last seen walking into a wall of flames. The question of his fate remains open for much of the book, which says little for his wife's desire to find him, or the investigative talents of the fictional Maine police force. Grace is rendered homeless, as were 2,500 Mainers after that October, but arguably she gains from the fire as well - the freedom to pursue a career and new romantic prospects. This is how Shreve, reliably a romantically inclined writer, rolls. A heel of a man is barely out of the picture when a better man shows up, first to help and then to woo. In "The Pilot's Wife," a woman learns of her treacherous husband's death from the man who becomes her next lover. In "The Stars Are Fire," Grace is rescued, post-fire, by a highly eligible doctor. Then she encounters a soulful pianist, a man she finds squatting at her recently deceased mother-in-law's stillstanding, palatial shorefront house. Hearing him play for the first time, Grace muses, "Is it from musical notes that true longing is born?" How much you enjoy this book may depend on whether you can answer that question in the affirmative. If life were anything like a Shreve novel, Match.com would be a website selling the wooden sticks to light fires with. But how the pages turn, even the ones padded with Grace's not entirely believable ambivalence over matters large and small. She's an enterprising woman, sensible, a true Yankee. (Of her laundry, she observes, "A soft towel is a coddle, doesn't get the dead skin off.") Would she really be reluctant, in this crisis, to help herself to her deceased mother-in-law's possessions? Gene is (or was) the woman's only son! Every reluctant dip into the dead lady's closet feels like an achievement in independence. Shreve has a gift for making the mundane engaging; Grace's excursion to Biddeford to look for a used car is nearly as interesting as her romantic life. Long before Liane Moriarty was spinning her "Big Little Lies," Shreve was spicing up domestic doings in beachfront settings with terrible husbands and third-act twists. She still is, as effectively as ever, this time with a narrative literally lit from within. The historical record of Maine's Great Fires is a literary opportunist's delight. MARY POLS, a reporter for The Portland Press Herald in Maine, is the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose."


Kirkus Review

Shreve's latest takes on natural disasters, public and private.The summer of 1947 was unseasonably hot, leading to a drought that had devastating consequences for the state of Maine. Shreve's novel tells the story of the Great Fires of Maine from the perspective of Grace, a housewife living near the coast. Grace faces a drought of a different kind, in her marriage. Husband Gene, a surveyor, never talks about the war experiences that left him with inner and outer scars, but "the other husbands don't either." What is unusual, at least compared to how Grace's neighbor Rosie describes her love life, is how brutal Gene can be in bed. With two children under 2 and another on the way, Grace's domestic arrangements are increasingly stressed as blistering summer advances. By October, the entire state is a tinderbox; even a dropped cigarette can set a parched lawn ablaze. As wildfires threaten, Gene leaves with a crew of men to dig a fire break. Awakened in the middle of the night, Grace realizes her town is burning. She flees to the seashore with her children and the clothes on her back and spends the night along with Rosie and many others huddled under soaked blankets. After rescue comes, Grace's baby is stillborn. Now homeless, with the children and her mother in tow, Grace moves into a vacant beach-side mansion which, she thinks, was left to Gene by his late mother, Merle. Except that Gene has been declared missing, and the mansion is not unoccupied: Aidan, an Irish pianist, has been squatting there since the fire disrupted his concert tour. Gene's absence seems downright salutary. A brief affair with Aidan shows her what Rosie was talking about, and he resumes his tour, promising to return. All the contentedness stalls the novel, until Shreve shakes things up in a way that descends into woman-in-jeopardy territory. The back stories of the main characters are so sketchy that their actions seem unmotivated and arbitrary. Formulaic plot aside, worth reading for the period detail and the evocative prose. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Shreve's (Stella Bain) latest brings readers to 1947 coastal Maine. In a close-knit town, Grace Holland, a young mother of two, enjoys camaraderie with her neighbor Rosie. She feels herself relax into discussions with Rosie that she can't have with her taciturn husband or her loving but rather rigid mother. In a time when the only advance warning for fire is the smell of smoke, residents prepare ahead of time. Grace wakes to the sound of her daughter coughing, bundles her children into the baby carriage, and carries them to the beach, where she thinks quickly enough to prepare protective wet air pockets from blankets, ordering Rosie to do the same. As the town burns around her, Grace rises to handle each astonishing ordeal as she meets it. VERDICT Based on the harrowing true story of the largest fire to ravage the coast of Maine, this is sure to be a best seller. Shreve's prose mirrors the action of the fire, with popping embers of action, licks of blazing rage, and the slow burn of lyrical character development. Absolutely stunning. [See Prepub Alert, 11/16/16; "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/17.]- Julie Kane, Washingrton & Lee Lib., Lexington, VA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Hot breath on Grace's face. Claire is screaming, and Grace is on her feet. As she lifts her daughter, a wall of fire fills the window. Perhaps a quarter of a mile back, if even that. Where's Gene? Didn't he come home? She picks Tom up from his crib and feels a wet diaper. No time to change him.   She scurries down the stairs carrying both children. She deposits them in the carriage in the hallway and pushes it onto the screened porch. Claire begins to cough in the smoky air. "Sweetie," Grace croons, "have you saved us all?"   She stuffs blankets, diapers, baby food, and water into the carriage behind the children. She loops the kids' clothes around the upper bits of metal and ties them in knots. She'll have to leave the mementos.   Because she can't push the now too-heavy carriage over the lip of the porch, she reverses it in order to drag it down the step. Claire is crying, and so is Tom, but Grace has no time to soothe them.   As she maneuvers the vehicle to the edge of the grass, a bomb goes off, the explosion one Grace can feel right through her feet and legs. The children are silent, as if awed by the sound.   "A fuel tank in a house on Seventh Street," she hears one man shout to another.   Sparks and embers swirl around Grace. There's chaos in the streets. She hears cars moving, women screaming. Balls of flame seem to leap from treetop to treetop, giving the fire a frightening momentum. A tree catches fire at the top, and the fire races down the trunk and into a house below. Another bomb. The fire turns tree after tree into tall torches.   Fields resemble hot coals. For as far as she can see, there's an unbroken line of fire. Cars are traveling, but where can they go?   An ember lands on the hood of the carriage. Grace swipes it off and begins to run. Heat and common sense push her to the seawall. A deer leaps across the street with her, chased by the freight train bearing down on all of them.   She takes the children from the carriage and sets them on a blanket on the sand. On another blanket, she lays out what few provisions she has brought. Abandoning the carriage, she begins to drag both blankets away from the fire and closer to the water. When the sand feels wet underfoot, she stops.      Smoke adds to the confusion. She spots, and then doesn't, Rosie dragging a canoe.   "Rosie!" Grace calls.   "Grace, where are you?"   "Right at the water. There you are."   Grace helps her friend drag the canoe beside the two blankets. "Where's Gene and Tim?" Rosie wails.   "I have no idea," Grace says, shaken.   "Where are all the people going?" Rosie asks.   "To the schoolhouse, I heard."   "That's crazy. The schoolhouse will burn, if it hasn't already."   Grace kneels on the blanket to change Tom's diaper. His sleeper is dry enough to stay on. Grace can feel heat on her face.   "Oh, God," Rosie cries.   "What?"   "The Hinkel house just went. It's only one street back from us."   Grace has no words. When she glances up, the fire burning on the ground resembles hot jewels among the rocks and pebbles.   "Rosie, take what you can from the canoe and put it near the water's edge. Then push the canoe out to sea."   "But . . ."   "It's wood. If an ember falls inside, it will bring the fire right to us. Wet your hair and the kids' hair."   Rosie follows Grace's instructions. She's glad that Rosie won't see her own house go up. Already, roof shingles are burning.   "Do my kids, too," Grace yells to buy more time.   The splendid maple next to Grace's own house turns orange in an instant, as if someone had switched on a light. The tree collapses. Grace can't see her screened porch, but she knows the fire will consume that next and lead straight into the house. She left the photographs, the papers, the layette, the antique tools.   Rosie's house explodes, the fire having found the fuel tank in the basement. Rosie snaps her head up.    "Rosie, don't," Grace commands, and there must be something in her voice that makes her friend obey, because Rosie turns to the water and puts her face in her hands.   Grace imagines the fire eating its way through her own home. The kitchen with the wringer washer, the hallway where the carriage is kept, the living room in which Grace made the slipcovers and drapes (an image of the fire climbing the drapes like a squirrel momentarily freezes her), upstairs to the children's beds, her own marriage bed. All their belongings, gone. Everything she and Gene have worked to have, gone.   "Rosie, listen. Go down to the water's edge so that only your feet are in the water. Lay down facing the sand--make an air pocket--and I'll bring you Ian and Eddie. Put a child under each arm and hold them close. Make air pockets for them, too. I'm going to soak your blanket and drape it over you. I'm going to cover your heads. Don't look up and don't reach out a hand or let your hair out from under the blanket."   Rosie is silent.   "Okay?" Grace shouts.   "Okay," Rosie says.   Grace races into the sea to wet the blanket. Men in jackets and caps carry children toward the water, as if in a great and horrible sacrificial act. The women, with provisions, follow. She lays the blanket over Rosie and her children just as she said she would. Then she sets her own children in the sand and wets another blanket. Tugging the dripping wool, she fetches Tom and lies down facing up, pulling the blanket to her face and anchoring it with her feet. She beckons for Claire to come to her. When she has the children securely beside her, she lets go for a second and flips onto her stomach, making three air pockets. She rolls the children over so that they are all facedown in the sand. Holding her hair back with one hand, she drapes the blanket up and over their heads. She checks around Claire and Tom to make sure nothing is sticking outside the covering.    She hears screams--not of pain, but of horror, and she guesses that the waterfront houses are about to go. People who have not managed to get out of town are trapped like rats running for the sea. She prays an animal will not step on her or, worse, try to burrow inside.   The heat on their heads and backs is just this side of bearable. The blanket won't stay wet for long.   "Rosie!" Grace shouts.   Grace can hear nothing.   "Rosie!"   "Still here!"   "Squiggle back into the water till it's up to your thighs, just short of the kids' feet."   "Why?"   "Do it, please."   Grace follows her own instructions and is in water nearly to her waist. She wishes she had thought to make a cave for her stomach. She creates new air pockets for herself and the children.   "Whatever you do, don't look up. Rosie, did you hear me?"   "Yes."   "Did you look up?"   "Yes."     Grace takes shallow breaths, afraid she might inhale sand. She wonders if she and her children will die like this, the fire advancing to the dune grass at the seawall and then igniting Grace's blanket. Would it be too late by the time she felt the pain, or would she have a few seconds to get Tom and Claire into the water up to their shoulders? She might have to dunk herself and the kids if the fire gets that close. Does sand burn?   She can do nothing but wait until the fire exhausts itself. The seawater must be in the mid-sixties, and she has begun to shiver under the blanket. She has on only her cotton nightgown. The children are hardly more dressed than she. She can't tell if the shivering is simply because of the cold, or if it stems from fear. Heat leaves the body quickly when one is lying on the ground, though the top of her feels as if it might sear at any minute. She would rather suffer the cold until the fire is well and truly out. How long will that take?   Around her, she hears timbers crashing, grass crackling. How many people are on the beach now? She doesn't dare look. She wishes she could calm herself, but it's impossible with the shivering. She has only one task now, to save her children.   And then Rosie's children and Rosie.   The shaking becomes so severe, the children seem to catch it. Nature's way of keeping them warm inside.     When she can no longer resist peeking, the moon is red. Burned trees fall to the ground amid showers of sparks. The entire town, for as far as Grace can see, is ablaze. Nothing moves but the fire--hungry, angry, relentless.   This must be what hell is like, she thinks as she lowers the blanket.   Excerpted from THE STARS ARE FIRE by Anita Shreve. Copyright © 2017 by Anita Shreve, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpted from The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.