The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve

I was seriously surprised by this one… I expected it to be good, that’s for sure. What I didn’t expect was to be swept off my feet and completely mesmerized by it.

Grace considers herself a fairly happy woman, very content with her life: she has a husband who provides for her, two beautiful children, and a great friend named Rosie. That’s it until a fire burns their houses to the ground and Grace, after her husband is declared missing in the fire, is forced to survive on her own – for her sake and her children’s. In this new, twisted reality Grace discovers her inner strengths and a world much bigger than her previous, narrowed life; she now has a job, a car, new friends, and a man who intrigues and fascinates her.

As you can see from the book’s summary, it is a book relying heavily on character development and growth. And while a lot of things happen, it is definitely not a plot-driven book. Grace develops so much as a character, learns so many new things, and above all she learns to love and trust herself. She really discovers her independence and her strength, and it was a marvellous journey to watch.

I was really intrigued by the way Shreve chose to portray Grace’s relationship with her husband, Gene. What started off as a mildly uncomfortable relationship, with no chemistry or love between the couple, ended up becoming a more twisted, poisonous one. Gene is very controlling, self-centered, neglectful, and abusive (both physically and sexually), and seeing Grace escaping him – especially since victims of domestic ab*se are still sidelined or silenced – had a huge impact on me.

I also enjoyed how Shreve set her time and place, how she explored her scenery and surroundings. I can only compare her use of setting and scenery to that of Ahdieh (in her latest Flame in the Mist). What I mean is that she let her era and place affect her pacing and story-telling; while the narrative isn’t exactly slow, it’s not fast-paced either. It feels very natural, very easy to follow, a lot like listening to classical music: definitely not fast, but with an almost natural rhythm of its own, and so full of emotion. I suppose this comparison is somewhat foreseeable, since classical music plays a major part in Grace’s  relationship to a certain someone, even becoming a sort of stepping stone towards her freedom (I hate to be so vague but I don’t want to give away any spoilers).

I do, however, believe that this book had a bit of a wasted potential. While Grace suspects that Gladys and Evelyn are lesbians, their storyline is not explored at all and we barely get to see them separately, much less together. Now, I get that they are secondary characters and that the author chose to go another direction, where their presence wasn’t all that needed, but come on! Middle-aged lesbians during the 40s? That would’ve been amazing. And what about the sapphic vibes coming off Grace’s relationship with Rosie? Please, I was almost positive they would end up together! Anyway, I understand that these are things that I would personally love to see in the book and that they were just wishful thinking.

 

**An ARC was provided via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review.**

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