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The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
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The Stars Are Fire

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The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
Paperback $17.00
Mar 27, 2018 | ISBN 9780345806369

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    Mar 27, 2018 | ISBN 9780345806369

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  • Apr 18, 2017 | ISBN 9780385350914

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  • Apr 18, 2017 | ISBN 9780804147675

    523 Minutes

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“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.” 
New York Times Book Review

“Like her sensational best-selling 1998 novel The Pilot’s Wife, about a widow who discovers her pilot husband had a second family, The Stars Are Fire explores what happens in the secret spaces between married people…Masterful… lingers long after the last page is turned, like the smoke from a wildfire.”
USA Today

“Precise, evocative prose brings the story’s vivid characters to life…original and gripping.” 

“Anita Shreve’s books are reliably engrossing literary page-turners, never formulaic…Shreve consistently creates complex characters and plots, often drawn from the historical record or from obscure headlines…Then she tells their stories in unobtrusively elegant prose.”
The Washington Post

“This is a suspenseful and heartwarming story of not just overcoming but also growing in the face of great difficulty.”

“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.”
—Library Journal
(starred review, Editors’ Spring Picks)

“It is a book of small moments, a collection of seemingly simple themes that build to surprising and moving crescendoes. Shreve’s spare, economic prose suits her character’s practicality and initial hesitance to determine the course of her own life… Shreve’s crisp writing becomes more expansive in the moments when her protagonist consciously stretches beyond the boundaries of her previously narrow life.”

“I had the sense as I read Shreve’s newest and 18th novel, The Stars Are Fire, that I was in the company of millions of phantom future readers who will adore this novel and devour it and recommend it to all their friends and book clubs…Shreve’s storytelling choices feel organically wedded to her writing, a winning and essentially magical alchemy…It’s all totally irresistible.  Along with storytelling mojo and stylistic verve, this novel has an excellent, suspenseful premise: Grace’s life is upended and ultimately transformed by a real-life historical catastrophe, the wildfires that spread through coastal Maine in October of 1947, following months of severe drought….In fact, The Stars Are Fire is so virtuosic, so infallibly readable, it could very well sell more copies than all Shreve’s others combined.”
Kate Christensen, Portland Press-Herald

“One of the pleasures of reading The Stars are Fire is Shreve’s ability to impart an authentic feel of 1940s daily life… Shreve’s writing is lovely.”
— ‘The ARTery

Author Q&A

Q: What inspired you to use the Maine fires of 1947 as the backdrop for your story? As a native New Englander, do you have a personal connection to this event or its aftermath?
A:  As it happens, I live in a town on the Maine coast that was hard hit by the Fires of ‘47.  During that week-long catastrophe, 151 of 156 houses along the beach in town were burned to the ground. Over the years, I’d heard talk about the Great Fire and had, once or twice in the past, read about it.  
A couple of years ago, I developed an intense interest and began to go to the archives to research the disaster.  The detail that captured my imagination was that of the women who had to go into the sea to save themselves and their children. I began to envision a young housewife who had to do just that, and the novel was born. 
Q: The natural disaster described in the book, a severe drought followed by uncontrollable wildfires, actually happened in 1947.  As our climate changes, it seems that tragedies like this one—where people lose communities, homes, and loved ones—are becoming more common.  What did you learn about disasters, natural or otherwise?
A:  Writing about the fire was an eye-opener for me, because it was not just the fear of surviving the moment (fire, hurricane, earthquake, sea levels rising) I had to address, but also the harrowing aftermath.  The fire takes place on page 50 of a 250-page book.  It ends on page 59.  When Grace comes to, she looks at devastation that is nearly unbearable in its thoroughness. Everything before her is black. There are no houses standing.  She sees no people.  The sand is black.  The air is filthy with soot.  Her town appears to have vanished. 
Grace is taken to the hospital; her children are under the care of strangers. There’s no trace of her neighbor next door, of her mother, of her husband.   A doctor mentions the idea of diaspora, and Grace realizes that most of the people who lived in the small town will never see each other again. (In the real fire of ’47, one town vanished from the map. It was destroyed and never built up again).
The people of Hunts Beach (the fictional town) start leaving, either to live with relatives in other states or, having nothing, to start a new life.  Grace can’t get insurance money because the contracts were burned and her husband, who knew the name of the insurance company, is missing.  All family photos, all their furniture, the wringer washer that Grace loved—all are gone. Grace must live with a series of strangers who clothe and feed her and the children until she is able to look for work.  All of her life is focused on the practical. Surviving is everything. When Grace receives a letter from her best friend, Rosie, who has left Hunts Beach to settle in Nova Scotia, she breaks down and weeps. 
Because the fire is caused by prolonged drought, I couldn’t help but think of more natural disasters ahead of us, and of the climate change that will cause them.
People on the Maine coast still worry about fire, but they worry more about tidal surges and sea levels rising.  Drought causes fires, excessive rain causes flooding, disturbances in the air cause tornadoes where they’ve seldom been, earthquakes rip apart cities, the tsunamis that follow wash away villages, and a glacier falling into the sea can cause sea levels to rise with disastrous consequences. 
It’s tough to hold in the head the idea of the earth destined to destroy itself, so I prefer to look at a tiny piece of that destiny.  Hence Grace and The Stars Are Fire
Q: Can you explain the significance of the book’s title?
A:  The title is taken from a line in Shakespeare (in Hamlet), but isolating the line changed its meaning for me (apologies to Mr. Shakespeare).  I read it as fire determining the fate (stars) of the victims. The cover of the book shows this best. The sparks from the fire at the bottom of the page begin to be seen as stars as they rise against a darker background.
Q: As a woman living in the 1940s, Grace is constrained by the gender roles of her time period and society’s rigid expectations for her. Can you talk about what’s changed for women between then and now?  What women (literary or real) inspired your portrayal of Grace?
A:  In that era, a woman’s life was defined by the neighborhood in which she lived and by the chores she had to perform. My mother had three children, no car, and a wringer washer.  The simple tasks of family life took up most of her day (except for her soap operas).  We could buy food from the “little” store but shop only once a week, on Thursday nights, when my father came home with his paycheck. I used my mother as a role model for Grace, though my parents had a very happy marriage. It was immensely pleasurable for me to go back to my early childhood and remember details I hadn’t thought of in decades. 
Q: Gene also seems to be constrained by gender roles—in his case, society’s expectations of manhood.  Do you also see him as a victim of his culture or is he more of a foil to Grace?
A:  I don’t see Gene as particularly constrained by gender roles. His role was exalted, particularly since he had fought in WWII.  He was free to marry, have a home and children and leave that home to go out into the world to earn money. If anything, he was constrained by his responsibility to provide for his family — but aren’t we all?
Q: By the end of the book, it seems that there are a few possible endings to Grace’s story. Why did you choose to leave her narrative open ended?
A:  I’m not sure I see the novel as open-ended. The meaningful gesture, in my view, is the moment when Aiden grasps Grace’s wrist and won’t let go, meaning that nothing will separate them now. Yes, he will go off to his concerts, but he will always come home to Grace. What I like most about the ending is her ability to envision an unconventional union, and having imagined it, take such joy in it. 
Q:  Some of the themes of your previous books—loss and grief, resilience, how one moment in life can change everything—resonate powerfully here.  Can you talk about how this book is a continuation of themes that have long interested you?  In what ways is it also a departure?
A:  Many of my novels ask the question:  If you take an ordinary woman and push her to the edge, how will she behave?  Grace is tested in the extreme: by the Fire, by a troubled marriage, and by the reappearance of a damaged and angry husband who threatens her very existence.  We see how Grace behaves: she’s resilient, she’s practical, and she finds a means of escape, even knowing how hard that escape will be.  When she married, she never imagined the emotional trials she would face, but she stood up to the challenges, even though, at times, she was terrified by them.  She had pluck and backbone and, above all, a desire to protect her children. I liked Grace.  I liked her throughout the writing of the novel.

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