Good morning on this sunny bank holiday weekend! I’m delighted to be participating in this blog tour, for Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire. The first one of Anita’s novels I read was in Canada in 2002 and All He Ever Wanted is still a great read – if you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you look it up. If you haven’t read anything by Anita Shreve yet, I think you’ll love #StarsAreFire and I’d like to thank Amelia from Little Brown for allowing me to take part in this blog tour and putting up with me sending her pics from sunny Crete when she was stuck in the office 🙂
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?
1947. Fires are racing along the coast of Maine after a summer-long drought, ravaging thousands of acres, causing unprecedented confusion and fear.
Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her difficult and unpredictable husband Gene joins the volunteers fighting to bring the fire under control. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, the women watch in horror as their houses go up in flames, then walk into the ocean as a last resort. They spend the night frantically trying to save their children. When dawn comes, they have miraculously survived, but their lives are forever changed: homeless, penniless, and left to face an uncertain future.
As Grace awaits news of her husband’s fate, she is thrust into a new world in which she must make a life on her own, beginning with absolutely nothing; she must find work, a home, a way to provide for her children. In the midst of 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.
If you haven’t read any of Anita Shreve’s page turning novels yet, this is a fantastic place to start. The fact that this novel was based on a true story was another factor which really drew me in as I love investigating around the books I’m reading. The long, hot summer of 1947 in Maine was a fascinating period that I knew nothing about prior to reading #StarsAreFire and Anita Shreve does an amazing job of transporting you back in time and reliving this traumatic event with Grace and her friend Rosie as they draw on every ounce of internal strength they have to rebuild their lives after the fires destroy everything they own,
The pairing of these two characters was very clever as we keep comparing them long before it occurs to Grace herself to draw comparisons about the state of her marriage with the much more passionate and fulfilled marriage that Rosie enjoys. Grace has been married to Gene from a very young age and his belittling of her and his cold, secretive and brusque nature is what she has come to accept as normal. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is the way we see Grace developing and flourishing despite the difficulties she has to endure.
The metaphor of her rising, quite literally, from the ashes of her former life is a powerful one and this is a moving and engrossing read. Shreve keeps Grace faithfully within her 1940s context, providing much food for thought about marriage, independence and friendship for a 21st century readership.
I’m not generally a romance reader and I think that Anita Shreve is a writer who contains romance within her novels rather than make Grace’s whole journey about love, marriage and romance. The dramatic description of the fire and its immediate aftermath are the most striking part of this novel at first, but what remains after reading this novel is the grit and courage shown by Grace which enables her to make difficult decisions in her family’s best interests by the end of the novel.
I think that Shreve is just as skilful in writing about female relationships as she is about love and I thought Grace’s relationship with Rosie and her evolving relationship with Marjorie was another real strength of this novel. The journey for warring women to move towards accepting one another as human beings is a difficult one to paint without resorting to cliche and I feel that #StarsAreFire has managed it superbly. There’s no denying that Grace and Marjorie have a difficult relationship at the beginning of the novel, but the skilful and credible way that Shreve manages to describe their evolving appreciation of one another was another stand-out aspect of this novel for me.
Fans of Anita Shreve will love this and I hope that it also brings her new readers who love period fiction and strongly written female narratives. At the very end of her novel, Shreve suggests that we look up Wildfire Loose by Joyce Butler – which tells the true story of these fires – and this is the very next thing that I’m off to look up. Happy reading & enjoy the bank holiday!
Writer On the Shelf:
Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favourites) and everything Eugene O’Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. “I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never.”
Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 17 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot’s Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, and Body Surfing.
Shreve is married to a man she met when she was 13. She has two children and three stepchildren, and in the last eight years has made tuition payments to seven colleges and universities.
Thank you so much to Amelia at Little Brown Books for inviting me onto the Blogtour and sending me this gorgeous book. I’ll definitely be recommending it as a fantastic summer read that a lot of people should pack for their holidays this year.