Linda J. (Ballwin, MO)
A Fire in the Heart
Once again, Anita Shreve, one of my favorite authors, has penned a novel that snares the reader's interest from the first sentence.
Paula Jacunski, Bath Maine
It is the summer of 1947 and Maine is suffering through an unbearable drought. The spring rains have long since dried up and the sun parches the state. Even the coastal towns have no relief save the slight ocean breezes.
Grace Holland is 24 with two children under the age of two, and is suffering through a drought of her own in her marriage.
She married Gene, thinking life would be wonderful. It hasn't turned out that way. She performs her wifely duties of washing, ironing, and cooking, but the occasional "nightly duties" are unsatisfying, nothing like her vivacious friend and neighbor, Rosie, describes in her relationship with her husband Tim.
After one "nightly duty," Grace finds herself pregnant, and realizes she is truly trapped.
Then, the unthinkable happens. A fire starts miles from town, and all the men, including Rick and Tim leave to build fire breaks.
Word comes that the fire is spreading, and Grace waits for Gene to come for them, but he never does.
The fire overtakes the town. Grace and her children along with Rosie and her children run to the sea, thinking that is their only salvation, and cover themselves with soaked blankets.
When rescuers finally find them, Grace is deathly ill, but she has saved her children. When she finally regains consciousness, Gene is still missing, their house is gone with all their possessions, and her baby is stillborn.
Tim comes back to Rosie, but does not know what happened to Gene. They leave the destroyed town and travel to Nova Scotia to be with her parents.
Penniless, with two children and her mother, Grace goes to the only place she knows for shelter – her deceased mother-in-law's coastal mansion which, she assumes, is now Gene's since his mother died.
But it is not unoccupied. Walking into the house, she hears a beautiful melody being played on the piano.
Aiden, an Irish pianist, his tour cut short by the fire, has been living in the deserted mansion until he finds another job.
With Aiden, Grace finally finds the joy that had been missing in her life, but when he finds a job, he leaves, promising to see her again.
By this time, Grace has gotten a job she likes, a car, and is discovering all the freedoms she had never known.
Then, her life is turned upside down again, and she has to summon all the strengths that she has learned through her previous experience to cope with this unexpected turn of events.
Shreve has written a novel of love, loss, and triumph in the face of a force that threatens to tear away all that Grace has gained.
She gets inside Grace's head to the point where readers can identify with her struggles, her fear, and her triumphs.
I found it to be a quick read, because I couldn't put it down.
The Year Maine Burned
I've read many of Anita Shreve's books, and I think this is her best yet. Shreve immerses you in Grace's life, struggles, disappointments, little successes. Through Grace, she explores the devastation of a massive fire. I intended to shut the book last night--and I did--but Grace stayed with me, and so I just gave in and finished the book. Packed with emotion; I would say it is true to Maine life in the late 1940s. I hope when this book is reviewed that there is a "Beyond the Book" article on the the "Year Maine burned". The fires destroyed 851 homes and 397 seasonal cottages, leaving 2,500 people homeless (statistics from the New England Historical Society).