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The Stars Are Fire

Cover of The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

A Novel
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover 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...
About the Author-
  • ANITA SHREVE's novels have sold more than six million copies and have been translated into thirty-six languages. She lives with her husband in New Hampshire.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 27, 2017
    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.

  • AudioFile Magazine A fire rages in Maine in 1947, destroying a town and the lives that Grace Holland and her family once led. Her husband does not return from fighting the flames. Grace, the mother of two, who is pregnant again, is left with nothing except the chance at a new life after her difficult marriage. Narrator Suzanne Elise Freeman performs quite nicely. If there's a quibble, it's with her rendition of a pianist whom Grace finds living in her mother-in-law's house. Freeman makes him sound like a stuffed shirt, and that, in turn, causes the developing relationship between him and Grace slightly less believable. Overall, though, Freeman and author Anita Shreve deliver the goods. There's pain, loss, hope, love, and a good narrator. What more could a listener want? G.S.D. � AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
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The Stars Are Fire
The Stars Are Fire
A Novel
Anita Shreve
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