The Stars are Fire focuses on heroine Grace Holland, a pregnant mid-20s mother who flees with two toddlers from her home right before it burns to the ground. Set in Maine in 1947 – when destructive fires really did burn through the state – the novel follows Grace as she finds her inner strength and takes charge of her changed life, despite the boundaries of her time.
After comparing herself to her best friend and next-door neighbour, Rosie, and her marriage, Grace feels her own may be lacking, particularly as her husband Gene becomes distant and angry after his mother’s death.
But all the imperfections of their humdrum marriage fade into the background once disaster strikes. Gene leaves the family home to help build a firebreak and is nowhere to be found once the smoke begins to clear.
In The Stars are Fire, Shreve sweeps us into Grace’s journey as she forges on to survival and happiness after such a catastrophic event. It’s a reminder that while courageous, smart women may sometimes seem hard to find on the small screen, there are plenty scattered throughout great books, written to show all their complexities and sensitivities.
Among the small cast of characters in this novel, each is intriguing in their own way. Their interactions are critical to the story as it unfolds and offer a reminder of the power of pure kindness. The prose is simple yet poignant and Shreve’s words, despite the devastating, depressing setting, make for a warm read. She captures the essence of the 1940s era astutely, in a way that appeals to the modern reader.
The simplicity of this novel is part of its charm, with a chronological storyline and no switching points of view. It’s a powerful story told with beautiful words, and no lack of twists and turns as we see a young woman blossom through tragedy.
The Stars are Fire is Shreve’s nineteenth novel, after she shot to prominence when The Pilot’s Wife, picked up by Oprah’s Book Club in 1998. Two years later, The Weight of Water was made into a movie, with a strong line-up including Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley. The Daily Telegraph (UK) says Shreve’s ‘sentences contain whole universes.’ She lives in New Hampshire and Maine with her husband.