The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire

by Anita Shreve


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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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385350907
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/18/2017
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

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.


New Hampshire; Massachusetts

Date of Birth:



B.A., Tufts University

Read an Excerpt

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.
“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 house turns orange in an instant, as if someone had switched on a light. The tree collapses. Grace can’t see her screened porch, but she knows the fire will consume that next and lead straight into the house. She left the photographs, the papers, the layette, the antique tools.
Rosie’s house explodes, the fire having found the fuel tank in the basement. Rosie snaps her head up. 
“Rosie, don’t,” Grace commands, and there must be something in her voice that makes her friend obey, because Rosie turns to the water and puts her face in her hands.
Grace imagines the fire eating its way through her own home. The kitchen with the wringer washer, the hallway where the carriage is kept, the living room in which Grace made the slipcovers and drapes (an image of the fire climbing the drapes like a squirrel momentarily freezes her), upstairs to the children’s beds, her own marriage bed. All their belongings, gone. Everything she and Gene have worked to have, gone.
“Rosie, listen. Go down to the water’s edge so that only your feet are in the water. Lay down facing the sand—make an air pocket—and I’ll bring you Ian and Eddie. Put a child under each arm and hold them close. Make air pockets for them, too. I’m going to soak your blanket and drape it over you. I’m going to cover your heads. Don’t look up and don’t reach out a hand or let your hair out from under the blanket.”
Rosie is silent.
“Okay?” Grace shouts.
“Okay,” Rosie says.
Grace races into the sea to wet the blanket. Men in jackets and caps carry children toward the water, as if in a great and horrible sacrificial act. The women, with provisions, follow. She lays the blanket over Rosie and her children just as she said she would. Then she sets her own children in the sand and wets another blanket. Tugging the dripping wool, she fetches Tom and lies down facing up, pulling the blanket to her face and anchoring it with her feet. She beckons for Claire to come to her. When she has the children securely beside her, she lets go for a second and flips onto her stomach, making three air pockets. She rolls the children over so that they are all facedown in the sand. Holding her hair back with one hand, she drapes the blanket up and over their heads. She checks around Claire and Tom to make sure nothing is sticking outside the covering. 
She hears screams—not of pain, but of horror, and she guesses that the waterfront houses are about to go. People who have not managed to get out of town are trapped like rats running for the sea. She prays an animal will not step on her or, worse, try to burrow inside.
The heat on their heads and backs is just this side of bearable. The blanket won’t stay wet for long.
“Rosie!” Grace shouts.
Grace can hear nothing.
“Still here!”
“Squiggle back into the water till it’s up to your thighs, just short of the kids’ feet.”
“Do it, please.”
Grace follows her own instructions and is in water nearly to her waist. She wishes she had thought to make a cave for her stomach. She creates new air pockets for herself and the children.
“Whatever you do, don’t look up. Rosie, did you hear me?”
“Did you look up?”
Grace takes shallow breaths, afraid she might inhale sand. She wonders if she and her children will die like this, the fire advancing to the dune grass at the seawall and then igniting Grace’s blanket. Would it be too late by the time she felt the pain, or would she have a few seconds to get Tom and Claire into the water up to their shoulders? She might have to dunk herself and the kids if the fire gets that close. Does sand burn?
She can do nothing but wait until the fire exhausts itself. The seawater must be in the mid-sixties, and she has begun to shiver under the blanket. She has on only her cotton nightgown. The children are hardly more dressed than she. She can’t tell if the shivering is simply because of the cold, or if it stems from fear. Heat leaves the body quickly when one is lying on the ground, though the top of her feels as if it might sear at any minute. She would rather suffer the cold until the fire is well and truly out. How long will that take?
Around her, she hears timbers crashing, grass crackling. How many people are on the beach now? She doesn’t dare look. She wishes she could calm herself, but it’s impossible with the shivering. She has only one task now, to save her children.
And then Rosie’s children and Rosie.
The shaking becomes so severe, the children seem to catch it. Nature’s way of keeping them warm inside.
When she can no longer resist peeking, the moon is red. Burned trees fall to the ground amid showers of sparks. The entire town, for as far as Grace can see, is ablaze. Nothing moves but the fire—hungry, angry, relentless.
This must be what hell is like, she thinks as she lowers the blanket.

Excerpted from THE STARS ARE FIRE by Anita Shreve. Copyright © 2017 by Anita Shreve, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Stars Are Fire, the new novel from beloved author Anita Shreve.

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?

Customer Reviews

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The Stars Are Fire 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anita Shreve did not disappoint the reader again in her book. It was one full of all emotions and impossible to put down. KUDOS to her again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely beautiful. The reader is totally involved. There is beauty and darkness. You will not regret this purchase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is a very moving and realistic novel about the real-life 1947 "fire that burned Maine" and how it changed the lives of survivors. Some of the families had to literally flee for their lives, with nothing but what they wore. They didn't have time to grab their most valued possessions. After the fire finally was out, they had to start their lives again, some from scratch. The story focuses on a young woman named Grace and her family, and those in their orbit. They had thought World War II was the worst that could happen to them, but little did they know what they would face only a few years later. Shreve deftly develops characters that you love or hate, and some characters with whom you identify. I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading other books by Ms. Shreve.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
captivating!! Well done.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the novel immidiately captured my attention, I found it lacking as the story progressed . Still , not a bad read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Page turner. I completed the book in one day.
BookGirlNY More than 1 year ago
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve is a one sitting read. Once you pick up the book and read the first sentence, you will not want to or be able to put it down. A five star book of engaging historical fiction. Shreve transports us to coastal Maine in 1947 where we meet Grace, a mother of two and married to Gene. Her best friend Rosie lives next door with her two children and husband Tim. All summer there has been a drought and now wildfires are raging across the state. Grace and Rosie’s husbands have gone to fight the fire and left the women and children at home. The fire is escalating and the women must rely on their instincts to save their children and themselves. At this pivotal moment Grace’s life is changed forever. Nothing she knew or depended on can help her when the winds of change come. Grace must now light the fire that has been buried deep inside of her in order to survive. Grace is a character of deep emotions and resilience. In the beginning of the book she is very meek and quiet. In time we come to see her fierceness and drive that compels her to live. Rosie is another favorite character of mine. She is not quite as well developed, but I loved her from the beginning. She is everyones best friend and ally. My least favorite is Gene for many reasons. He is a self-centered egotistical man that cares nothing for his family!
PegGlover 9 months ago
The Stars Are Fire is a fictional well-written and captivating story, which takes place in Maine during its historic fire of 1947. Grace Holland felt trapped and alone in her marriage. She knew that she was on her own when an uncontrollable fire terrorized her town, burning everything in its way. Grace was able to save her two children, but her husband Gene, who had been fighting the fire, was declared missing. Grace’s home and everything in it was destroyed. She knew that she’d have to reinvent herself. Grace didn’t like taking over her less than kind, deceased mother-in-law’s home, but desperate times demanded desperate measures. However, when she found the house already occupied, by a concert pianist, life took an unexpected turn, for the better. Grace’s happy-ever-after didn’t come easily, though. She had many trials and emotions to live through first. Although, The Stars Are Fire, is not a page-turner, it is a compelling read. The story is thought-provoking, emotional, and captivating.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Compelling read, sudden though satisfying ending
Anonymous 12 months ago
A nice light read with some twists and turns and great characters
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was very captivating. I’ve read mostly all her books and this is one of the best ones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
I almost DNF this novel as I didn’t like the narrator that read it to me. I thought her voice was flat and she carried no emotions as she read. I feel that I would have enjoyed this novel more had the narrator put some feelings in her voice as the story played out. I did enjoy this novel and the character of Grace really surprised me in the end. Grace is content in her life with her husband and two small children. Grace loves being a mother and caring for her children but her relationship with her husband is another story. Their married life is missing the passion, love and excitement that it used to have. Grace misses these feelings yet it seems like her husband is fine with how their relationship is evolving. As I read, it felt as if this couple is just going through the motions to get through each day, doing their assigned roles. When a massive fire hits their region, the couple is separated. The husband leaves to help combat the blazes while Grace stays home to attend to the children and their house. As the fire begins to reach their home, Grace realizes that she cannot stay in their home or they will die, so she starts to consider her options. I thought her plan of action was brilliant and as she cared for her children, I began to see how committed she was to her children. When Grace and her children are rescued, she tries to find the people who matter most to her: her husband, her mother and her best friend. Their family has nothing to return to as everything was destroyed in the fire so Grace must start rebuilding their lives, if they are to have any future. Grace doesn’t break down emotionally or physically because of their situation, she immediately starts planning and deciding what direction she wants to take. With her husband missing and other families in the same situation, Grace is resourceful and swift with her actions. When she comes upon Aiden, I was surprised at her actions. I realized she must have been battling a multitude of emotions but I thought ethics might come out on top. As she continues to rebuild their lives, her love for her children shines, her resourceful strengthens, and she begins to realize what really matters in her life. I enjoyed the character growth in this novel. I kept reflecting back that his novel occurred in 1947 and as I read, my respect and admiration for Grace grew. She is almost a completely different woman by the time I read the final pages. This was an entertaining read, one that I am glad I read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This Anita Shreve installment had something of a tepid start in my opinion, but then, many other books also start out mildly. Perhaps it was intentional, in order to build up to the high point of the story. Once the fire started, though, the more I read, the harder it was to put down. The closer I got to the ending, the more I kept wondering, How will Grace extract herself from her predicament? I am a fan of epilogues, and the surprises in this one did not disappoint. The only drawback I could see was the explicit description of intimate acts. Granted, there were only a few of them, but I don't believe they added anything to the story and could just as easily have been omitted. Overall, though, I think it was a good story and I look forward to Anita's next book.
DubaiReader1 More than 1 year ago
Ravaged by fire. Based on a true event that occurred in October 1947, Anita Shreve has returned to the Maine coast, where several of my favourite Shreve books were based. Her writing is as precise and perfect as ever, drawing the reader in, well before the excitement of the novel even begins. Following a drought that lasted all Summer, the Autumn of 1947 brought little relief to the residents of Hunts Beach, and the looming threat of fire became a reality when dry winds sent flames whipping across the forests, destroying nine towns. Grace and her best friend Rosie are trapped between the fire and the ocean with four children between them. Ingeniously, they use the shore to save themselves, but life will never return to normal for the two women. At the time of the fire Grace's husband, Gene, was helping in the forest, creating wind-breaks, hoping to prevent the onslaught. When the flames subside, Grace finds herself with a missing husband, penniless, homeless and with two young children to support. A great read, highly recommended. Previously read: The Pilot's Wife (5 stars) Fortune's Rocks (5 stars) Resistance (5 stars) Sea Glass (5 stars) All He Ever Wanted (3 1/2 stars) Body Surfing (3 stars) A Change in Altitude (4 stars)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
Absolutely marvelous. It was a grabber from the first page. Story moved along and kept a person engaged. Great Book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like the book, and One of the best fictional book,The Perfect Author read it on and give your feedback. really worth to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Story bounced around- just not a good book. I have read every Anita Shreve book written. This one just felt strange. Would not recomend to anyone