The Stars Are Fire

THE STARS ARE FIRE

Anita Shreve

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–based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine’s history 

In October 1947, Grace Holland is experiencing two simultaneous droughts. An unseasonably hot, dry summer has turned the state of Maine into a tinderbox, and Grace and her husband, Gene, have fallen out of love and barely speak. Five months pregnant and caring for two toddlers,

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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–based on the true story of the largest fire in Maine’s history 

In October 1947, Grace Holland is experiencing two simultaneous droughts. An unseasonably hot, dry summer has turned the state of Maine into a tinderbox, and Grace and her husband, Gene, have fallen out of love and barely speak. Five months pregnant and caring for two toddlers, Grace has resigned herself to a life of loneliness and domestic chores. One night she awakes to find that wildfires are racing down the coast, closer and closer to her house.  Forced to pull her children into the ocean to escape the flames, Grace watches helplessly as everything she knows burns to the ground.  By morning, her life is forever changed: she is homeless, penniless, awaiting news of her husband’s fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. With courage and stoicism, Grace overcomes devastating loss and, through the smoke, is able to glimpse the opportunity to rewrite her own story.

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  • Vintage
  • Paperback
  • March 2018
  • 320 Pages
  • 9780345806369

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$16.00

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About Anita Shreve

Anita ShreveAnita Shreve was a high school teacher and a freelance magazine journalist before writing fiction full time. She was the author of over fifteen novels including the international bestseller The Pilot’s Wife and The Weight of Water, a finalist for the Orange Prize. Shreve taught writing at Amherst College and lived in Massachusetts.

Author Website

Praise

Instant New York Times Bestseller
Washington Post 50 Notable Works for Fiction 2017

“This is sure to be a bestseller. 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)

Discussion Questions

1. The epigraph is a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:“Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt thou the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love.” What does it mean? What does it have to do with the novel it introduces?

2. “Containerize, her own mother once told Grace, as if imparting the secret of sanity. Her mother meant children as well as dry goods.” (pages 9–­10) In what ways does Grace follow this advice? When does she disregard it?

3. Grace intends to seduce Gene on page 15, but the results are degrading and painful. If the novel were set in the present, might this be considered marital rape? How are things different now from in the 1940s?

4. On page 22, Grace thinks, “It feels true that she might have wished her mother-­in-­law gone. Not dead, just gone. It feels true that she caused the hurtful night in bed, even though she sort of knows she didn’t.” Why does she blame herself for these things? When does she stop blaming herself?

5. Discuss Grace’s relationship with Rosie. Why is this friendship so important to Grace? What function does Rosie serve in her life?

6. Before reading The Stars Are Fire, what did you know about the fires that tore through Maine in 1947?

7. Can you think of anything Grace could have done differently to prepare?

8. After the fire, after losing the baby, Grace believes Gene may have used the chaos as cover for him to leave the family. What makes her think this? Would she rather that he fled, or died fighting the fire?

9. Why do Matthew and Joan take in Grace and the children? How does their action help her to heal?

10. At various points in the novel, Grace either ignores or heeds her intuition—­for instance, when Claire has a fever, or when Grace lets Aidan stay in the house. How does she decide when to follow her gut, and when to disregard it? Does her faith in her intuition grow over the course of the novel?

11. What do you think would have happened to Grace and the children if Marjorie hadn’t found them?

12. When does Grace begin to believe in her ability to survive and even thrive on her own? Is it purely a matter of necessity?

13. How does the notion of a “diaspora” figure into the story?

14. Which does more to pull Grace toward Aidan, their conversations or his music?

15. Why do you think Merle hid her jewelry where she did? What would have happened to Grace and the children if Grace hadn’t found it?

16. What prompts Grace to lie to her mother about Dr. Lighthart and about the money?

17. When Gene reappears, Grace thinks, “She will live in this house with this injured man on the couch until one of them dies. She will never again go to a job. She will never make love again. She will not have friends.” (page 175) What prompts her to find a way to escape this fate?

18. Are there any ways in which Gene’s rage about his situation is justified?

19. On page 195, Gene says, “ ‘Goddamnit, Grace. What’s got into you?’ ” She replies, “ ‘What’s gone out of me is a better question.” What does she mean?

20. In her goodbye letter to Gene, Grace writes, “I think that if the fire hadn’t happened, we’d have continued as the little family that we were. In time, I believe, we would have come to care about each other in a way that was companionable.” (page 221) Without the upheaval of the fire, do you think Grace would have stayed in her marriage?

21. When Grace decided to drive north, where did you think she was going? Did the epilogue surprise you?

22. The novel ends on a serendipitous note. Did you find it satisfying?