“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.”
Based on the actual Great Fire of ’47 in Maine, this was such a great novel, gripping, unpredictable, and totally captivating. Anita Shreve has always been one of my favourite authors. I’ve read most of her literary page-turners, which are many, and try to read one or two every year. This is her last and final book because sadly Shreve died earlier this year after living a long time with cancer. Her books feature strong resilient characters and offer beautiful images of water, light, and in this case fire. There’s a dark and earthy sensual feel to her writing which I love, and this one has a number of amazing twists and turns.
A woman wakes up in a gangrenous WW1 field hospital with no memory of who she is or how she got there. There is shrapnel in her feet and she is wearing a British medical uniform, but her accent is American. She remembers driving an ambulance for the war effort, she knows she can draw, and she thinks her name is Stella Bain. As Stella embarks on a journey to figure out her present, she encounters her past as well as her future. Issues of PTSD and how the human spirit can rally in the face of trauma is central to the novel. This is the weakest of the novels I have read by her. I found it lacking in her usual ability to create atmosphere. Some of the story developments seemed contrived and the ending was all too predictable.
Anita Shreve (one of those authors whose name is larger on the cover of the book than the title) has written almost 20 novels. I’ve read almost a dozen of them including Light on Snow. She’s a good storyteller and her novels are usually deliciously dark with many of the same themes running through all of them. Her website is very helpful in that regard, with information nicely given about characters and themes in case you didn’t catch something. (Anita Shreve Website)
- A moment in life that can change everything.
- An unconventional woman who finds a reserve of previously untapped strength.
- Loss and grief, being pushed to the edge.
- A description of a home becoming a reflection of the characters.
- Water as both dangerous and comforting.
The Shreve books I’ve enjoyed the most are The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, and Fortune’s Rocks. This one is actually a loose sequel to All He Ever Wanted, which I have not read but might pick up now as a flashback.
Twelve year old Nicky and her father are on a walk one snowy night when they stumble upon a newborn baby wrapped in a sleeping bag. The mystery surrounding the baby and how it got there becomes one that Nicky and her father become completely stuck in, like snow that stops all traffic. Curl up under a quilt with a steaming mug of hot chocolate for this one.
Shreve tells a story well and you will find yourself compulsively turning pages. There’s always an element of mystery and the mood is atmospheric like an early dusk on a winter’s day. In ‘Light on Snow’ themes of light in various forms are unmistakable and run throughout the novel. Shreve often has themes of water in her books, but this time she has chosen snow. There are many different descriptions of various types and consistencies of the stuff. The barren, cold landscape of New England in the winter is an unmistakable parallel to the cold grief and still raw emotions of those living in the house.
Anita Shreve’s most popular book was probably ‘The Pilot’s Wife’ but she has written more than a dozen others. It you are in the mood for a story to get lost in for awhile, hers are an excellent choice. Her characters are real people and she makes you care about them. Her focus is on relationships and emotions but there is always a good plot in the mix.
She has a beautiful website where you can learn about the themes which run through her novels and get a glimpse of what she has written.
Anita Shreve Website