I admire Anita Shreve as an author. She must work non-stop to produce all those best-selling books. She has legions of fans–including Oprah who is surely an author’s best advocate. This is my second time reading one of her books. The first, A Change in Altitude, was a huge disappointment. (You can read my review here.) Happily, her newest book, Stars are Fire, is much better, but still lacking… something….
Gene and Grace Holland area young couple with a dubious marital dynamic. We are, of course, treated to a thorough discussion of their sex life and Gene’s puzzling preference for a non-missionary position. Why in God’s name we needed to know this is never made clear. The story though gets a lot more umph when one of the state of Maine’s greatest natural tragedy’s occurs–the 1947 wild fire that wiped out a number of towns along it’s coast. Now it gets pretty interesting.
Grace shows amazing knowledge of how to survive a wildfire raging thru a town. Girl Scouts? Bluebirds? Red Cross training? Anyway, as you likely guessed, she and her children and her best buddy, Rosie and her kids, survive. That was a relief.
I loved that she did NOT have ultra-modern views on everything. She accepted that she was married, that her husband was head of the family, that her role was to raise the children, keep the house and give her husband his interesting sexual release just like all good wives in 1947. But then came the fire….
Trying to say this without spoilers…. She wasn’t much of a detective after the fire. She needs to read the great Clovis Anderson’s Principles of Private Detection (see the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith) or read a few mysteries while the kids nap. That she jumps to a huge and obviously erroneous conclusion after the fire….oh geesh… as one reviewer said–inspires a Lifetime movie.
I really did not like Grace or her husband. I DID like Rosie. I wish there was a book on Rosie–she was full of life. And I loved John. John should have been the story in my humble opinion. I think he had backstory to carry a great book. Grace and Gene and lovely Aiden were…well, pretty generic in spite of Gene’s “odd” preference in the bedroom. (The Kinsey Report came out in this era. I doubt Gene’s preference was very shocking.) Grace was generic in spite of being a heroic mother. In spite of showing the girt to survive that would make Scarlett O’Hara happy. In spite of being an amazingly modern mother who reasons with her children and apparently has the touch of Princess Di with her kids–always hunkering down to look them in the eye and all that. In spite of taking her homeless mother in to be the drudge. In spite of being nice to people. Generic.
The ending? Ugh. Cue song “The Times of Your Life” or “The Way We Were” or…. you get the idea. It was like Bobby Ewing’s dream. I had to wonder if she was finishing on the last final day and just said “Oh, to hell with it….” And we never found out why it was so necessary to discuss their sex life, either. “Enquiring,” prurient, annoyed minds want to know now that it’s stuck in our brains. Otherwise, please pass the brain bleach.
Then there is the name thing. Claire! Ugh! Claire! I have a spreadsheet of all the Claires in novels I’ve read. Editors? Take not, please. No More Claires. (Or Tess or Grace or Kate). Ok?? That, obviously is a pet peeve, but truly so many different authors landing on the same over-used name gets old.
In spite of my bad comments, I do love Anita Shreve’s writing style. Her descriptions are so vivid and, even when I don’t like the story, her writing is compelling and keeps me going, wanting to finish the story. Sorry, though. I doubt this one is depressing enough for Oprah’s Book Club (O Magazine’s I suppose it is now).