A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Twofer Tuesday- The Pilot's Wife and The Stars Are Fire- by Anita Shreve- Feature and Review


A pilot's wife is taught to be prepared for the late-night knock at the door. But when Kathryn Lyons receives word that a plane flown by her husband, Jack, has exploded near the coast of Ireland, she confronts the unfathomable-one startling revelation at a time. Soon drawn into a maelstrom of publicity fueled by rumors that Jack led a secret life, Kathryn sets out to learn who her husband really was, whatever that knowledge might cost. Her search propels this taut, impassioned novel as it movingly explores the question, How well can we ever really know another person?



The Pilot's WifeThe Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve is a 1999 Bay Back Books publication.

I read this book a long time ago, before I become a member of Goodreads and well before I started writing book reviews.
But, when I heard of Anita Shreve’s passing, this book came back to the forefront of my mind, as I recalled bits and pieces of it quite vividly.
Although I have so many books to review, with deadlines, no less, I couldn’t resist giving this book a second look.
This novel, when it was first released, benefited greatly from the press that resulted from Oprah Winfrey’s having selected it for her book club. However, initially, I wasn’t sure if it was my kind of book and didn’t immediately rush out and buy a copy at the peak of its popularity. But, eventually, my curiosity got the best of me. I never could have imagined the impact this book would have on me, or the way it would guide my reading habits from that time forward.

Briefly, for those who may not have read the book or just a quick refresher for those who have- Kathryn’s husband, Jack, is a pilot, and together they have a teenage daughter. Life is pretty good, and Kathryn has learned to accept the ebbs and flows within her marriage. But, when she gets the news a plane Jack was piloting exploded in midair, everything she thought she knew about her daughter, her husband and even herself is thrown into question. Was it a mechanical malfunction, or pilot error- or something far more sinister?

Jack’s occupation explains his absences from home, but it is an adjustment his family has had to learn to live with. His job also comes in handy when it comes to sustaining secrets and hiding things from his wife and daughter. Many may question how naïve Kathryn was, but I didn’t feel as though she buried her head in the sand. Of course, as the story unfolds, episodes from the past all click into place and Kathryn realizes she was naïve, perhaps complacent, was too trusting, too confident in her life, but didn’t she have the right to be? Or should she have remained in a state of hyper awareness at all times? Is is wrong to enjoy contentment?

Even now, with the passage of time, the emotions the book stirred in me the first time around, resurfaced once again, as strong as before, maybe even more so, even knowing everything that was going to happen in advance. The story still held my rapt attention and sucked me into Kathryn’s mind -numbing vortex as she stumbles across one shocking betrayal after another.
The suspense is still nearly unbearable at times, the characterizations firm, if not always likeable, and the tantalizing and teasing pacing, is genius.

The story does seem dated a little, at this point, and as a more jaded reader, I may have figured things out a lot quicker if I’d been reading it for the first time, but it is still a powerful heart wrenching novel of suspense and riveting family drama. I have read several other books written by Shreve over the years, but so far, although very well written, they didn’t quite manage to have the same effect on me as this one did.






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. They 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. Then the unthinkable happens and Grace's bravery is tested as never before.


MY REVIEW: The Stars Are FireThe Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve is a 2017 Random House publication.

I must confess, I had this book sitting on my TBR pile for a while, not in any big hurry to read it, until I heard the news of Anita Shreve’s passing. I decided to do a blog post in her honor and wanted to include the first book I’d read of hers- “The Pilot’s Wife” and thought it would be fitting, in a way, to feature the last book she published. So, I while I was re-reading TPW, I slowly worked my way through this one, as well.

What captured my interest about this book, initially, was that it is centered around true events. In 1947 a massive fire in Maine burned over a quarter of a million acres of land, and destroyed many homes in its wake, leaving sixteen dead. I’d never heard about this fire until I read the synopsis of this book. After doing a few Google searches I was interested to see how Shreve would weave a story around such a monumental occurrence.

Grace Holland is in an unhappy marriage, the mother of two small children, with another one on the way, when her husband, Gene, volunteers to help fight the fire. He goes missing, presumed dead, leaving Grace, her children, and her mother to find a way to survive on their own.

Just when Grace is hitting stride, feeling more confident, enjoying the relief and release she feels without Gene, life throws Grace a curve ball she never saw coming.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt thou the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love.” - Hamlet

This story is not incredibly long, but due to its bleakness, which depicted the hardships that resulted from a horrific disaster, while detailing the limited options women had in the forties, it often felt like the story was moving at the speed of molasses.

However, I would advise readers to stick it out, because this is not a book that is meant to be a fast-paced novel of suspense or action. It’s beautifully written piece and an amazing character study, focused on Grace Holland. Grace will go from being at the will and mercy of a cold, bitter husband, to finding the strength and courage to search for inner peace, and maybe even happiness, against all odds.

Women, especially, stayed in miserable marriages to avoid the stigma associated with divorce, and because of the lack of career opportunities. But, for Grace, duty and responsibility figure into things, as well. But, the book also points to how rigid, assigned roles, and duties also impacted men.

Gene might have felt trapped, and certainly felt intense pressure to provide for his family, which began to change him from a rather amiable sort, to a resentful, cold, and very bitter man. His anger soon manifests itself in very dangerous ways, which is where the marital tensions often become so taut, and so intense, it is nearly unbearable.

Yet out of the dust and burnt ash, this story emerges into one of great resilience and courage. Grace does the best she can, takes risks, capitalizes on advantageous situations and is helped by good people and wonderful friends along the way. Even when she seems to hit rock bottom, with no way out of her misery, she rises to the occasion, determined to escape her phyical and metaphorical incarceration.

While this book is mostly well-received, it did have a few mixed reviews, which gave me pause, but as is often the case, a book will speak to one in a very different way than it speaks to someone else, if at all.

For me, I was very impressed with Shreve’s portrait of marriage during a time when people were basically forced to remain in an untenable relationship. I was in awe of her in depth creation of Grace Holland, who is ultimately a survivor, a person who is inspirational, determined to live life on her own terms and refuses to allow convention to dictate her destiny. Her journey is a long, labored trip, and is not going to end all wrapped up in a nice, neat package. This may bother some readers, but, I thought it was fitting and, did justice to Grace’s character.

Having said that, one can’t avoid the impression that Grace will reinvent herself, will be in control of her own destiny, embarking on a whole new adventure in life, no matter which path she winds up on or how things turn out.

In all honesty, based on the books I’ve read by this author, this one was not my all -time favorite, and I don’t know that it’s Shreve’s best effort, but it is still a very solid, atmospheric and compelling novel. I really enjoyed the history, the writing, and the deep character study, and how the tragedy of the fire, ultimately provided a way for Grace to experience freedom and forge a new life for herself.

Overall, I thought this book was very thought provoking and would make a very good book club selection. This may be our last novel by Anita Shreve, and if that is the case, I’d say she left us with a very positive impression of her and her books.





This blog post is dedicated to the late Anita Shreve. 

Anita Shreve was an American writer, chiefly known for her novels. Shreve's novels have sold millions of copies worldwide. She attended Tufts University and began writing while working as a high school teacher. One of her first published stories, Past the Island, Drifting, (published in 1975) was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1976. Among other jobs, Shreve spent three years working as a journalist in Kenya. In 1999, while she was teaching Creative Writing at Amherst College, Oprah Winfrey selected The Pilot's Wife for her book club. Her novels The Weight of Water and Resistance became a films of the same name. CBS released The Pilot's Wife as a movie of the week.

She died on March 29, 2018, at her home at Newfields, New Hampshire, from cancer; she was 71. 


  1. I am moved by your compassionate and incisive reading and reviewing of these two books, Julie. Thank you again for providing such insight and love of literature.

  2. Thank you, Emelle!! What a great pleasure to read anything written by this author. Anita Shreve was a great talent. She will be greatly missed. Thank you so much for stopping by The Book Review!!


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