I haven’t read anything by Anita Shreve for a very long time and I wonder why, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a fine example on how to write about someone experiencing difficult times, who is trapped and feels powerless, without being depressing.
It is 1947 and the summer heat is blazing. Then the heat turns to drought and the drought turns to wildfire. On the coast of Maine, Grace Holland, five months pregnant, without a car and at home with her two toddlers, must run as the fire threatens to engulf her village. Her husband Gene is with other men, making a fire break. Grace, with her best friend Rosie and her children, run from the fire, taking refuge overnight at the beach. The next morning, their houses are ash, their village is burned. They are homeless, penniless and, though Rosie’s husband returns, Gene doesn’t.
Grace must cope and in doing so she finds a new world opening up. A world which she had no idea existed. She becomes decisive and brave, she finds a home, a job and learns to drive. All of this validates her worth. With her mother, they fashion themselves a new life. But it is a life with a temporary feeling about it because Grace dare not think Gene is dead. Theirs was a difficult relationship, suffocating, Gene is an emotional bully. She revels in her new freedoms until one day everything she has built, the gains she have made, are lost. Her gamble backfires.
This is a woman’s story of its time, when men were the providers and expected their wives to fulfil their wifely duties. Grace and Gene married young because she was pregnant and this sets the tone for their marriage. His mother wanted better for Gene and has never welcomed Grace. Grace’s dissatisfaction with her claustrophobic life grows. Gene is a good provider but they have little emotional connection, and so Grace envies Rosie’s close and sensual relationship with her husband Tim.
Shreve’s writing style is simple and descriptive. Gene sometimes calls Grace ‘Dove’. “She has never been Gracie. Only Grace. And then Dove, with Gene. Grace doesn’t feel like a dove, and she’s sure she doesn’t look anything like a dove, but she knows there’s a sweetness in the nickname. She wonders if it means something that she doesn’t have a fond or funny name for her husband.” The story is told, however, from Grace’s viewpoint. Gene’s thoughts are left unsaid.
Read more about Anita Shreve’s books at her website.
‘The Stars are Fire’ by Anita Shreve [US: Borzoi; UK: Little, Brown] Buy at Amazon
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