Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: October 11, 2022
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Literary
Author Dani Shapiro wastes no time plunging her pen into the marrow of human experience in her latest novel, Signal Fires. It’s a summer night in 1985 and the Wilf family, Ben, Mimi, and their teenaged children Sarah and Theo are about to go from a happy family living to four individuals reeling from unexpected trauma. Before that chapter can be completely digested Shapiro fast forwards 14 years when Ben, a doctor, responds to a frantic new neighbor by delivering the man’s first child and son on their kitchen floor. These events, these people, are the filaments that traverse this radiant novel about parenting and love and how, even with the best of intentions, these can go terribly wrong.
Waldo is the baby Ben delivers and their paths will cross again at a key moment in both their lives. This time Waldo is a lonely boy of 10, in love with the stars, science, and all the ways the universe is connected. Ben is retired and coming to terms with the realities of aging. When he notices Waldo leaning out his window late one winter night he agrees to join him outside to look at the sky. There, the elderly man tries to connect with a little boy whose brilliant mind leaves him isolated. The night becomes a climactic one in Signal Fires as both families are pushed to their emotional and physical limits.
At its most basic, Signal Fires is a novel of people and places that will evoke recognition for many. A close-knit family in the kind of neighborhood where children race from house to house all summer, grownups have dinner parties, bikes are left in front yards, there are sleepovers, and block parties. Or as I knew it when I was growing up: Suburba Avenue in Rochester, NY. There is Mimi’s joy in motherhood, the family’s faith, Sarah and Theo growing up, and dealing with their aging parents. But within them all is a wound left unhealed that, despite surface success, leaves them broken.
Shapiro’s writing has a gentle fluidity that carries the reader along. Even as the timeline shifts and slips, events and emotions run high, there is a surety to her vision that keeps Signal Fires and the reader afloat. And while I found the novel’s naming conventions (Wilf?, Waldo?, Shenkman?) jarring it wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this tender story of one family and the myriad mysteries of connection.
Everything I Never Told You is another marvelous example of fiction about family, secrets, and their impact.
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