Book Reviews

Book Review: Signal Fires

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By Dani Shapiro

Publication Date:  October 18, 2022

240 Pages

I wasn’t familiar with this author’s work before I requested this ARC, and I’ve been missing out.  Of course, this is her first novel for fifteen years so perhaps I can be forgiven the oversight. 

On a summer night in the mid-1980s, a car crash changes the lives of everyone in the Wilf family and becomes the secret that is never spoken, but festers inside all of them.  In the ensuing years, Dr. Ben Wilf will question his own medical abilities, his wife Mimi resolutely refuses to acknowledge her children’s culpability, daughter Sarah turns to alcohol to mask her inability to control her life, and Theo, the driver of the car, abandons his family for years to find himself.

Several years later, the Schenkman’s move in across the street from Ben and Mimi Wilf.  On a cold New Year’s Eve, Ben is called on to deliver Waldo Schenkman, who makes his first appearance in his parent’s kitchen.  This seemingly random chance will forge a connection between the two families that spans decades, providing healing in the most improbable ways.

“Signal Fires” interpreted by Wombo Dream

Flawed characters, poor choices, second chances, and redemption.  Such strong themes in this novel that are treated with compassion and an unflinchingly honest eye.  The story is told in several points of view and isn’t linear, but hops between between 1985 and 2020, touching down to give the reader a taste of what’s happening for that character and those connected with him or her, filling in details naturally and effortlessly.  Several of the characters are deeply flawed, but still presented with such empathy that I wasn’t able to dislike any of them, even though one or two of them I probably would have if they hadn’t been presented with such candor.   In turns heartbreaking and uplifting, I was sad to swipe the last page.

Which brings me to my only critical point – I wanted more.  I once had an editor advise me to cut out at least one point of view in a novel that runs about 67,000 words, stating that she didn’t think I got to the heart of the characters enough.  After reading Signal Fires, which runs approximately 60,000 words, I understand her comment.  The story is beautiful and the length of the novel does it justice, but I wanted more time with each of the characters.  

Still, it’s definitely worth the read and I’ll be recommending it.

4/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for providing the ARC ebook.  I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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