Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

Signal Fires
by Dani Shapiro
Read by Dani Shapiro
7 hours, 30 minutes
Published October 2022 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
An ancient majestic oak stands beneath the stars on Division Street. And under the tree sits Ben Wilf, a retired doctor, and ten-year-old Waldo Shenkman, a brilliant, lonely boy who is pointing out his favorite constellations. Waldo doesn't realize it but he and Ben have met before. And they will again, and again. Across time and space, and shared destiny. 

Division Street is full of secrets. An impulsive lie begets a secret-one which will forever haunt the Wilf family. And the Shenkmans, who move into the neighborhood many years later, bring secrets of their own.. Spanning fifty kaleidoscopic years, on a street-and in a galaxy-where stars collapse and stories collide, these two families become bound in ways they never could have imagined.

My Thoughts: 
This book opens in 1985 with a terrible car accident. Fifteen-year-old Theo Wilf is driving his sister, Sarah, and her friend home because the girls have been drinking. But Theo doesn't know how to drive and crashes the car into a giant tree in the family's front yard. When their father, Ben, rushes out of the house, Sarah tells him that she was driving. Ben, a doctor, pulls Sarah's friend out of the front seat when he sees that she is bleeding heavily from a head wound; once he gets her out of the car, though, he realizes that her neck is broken and moving her was the worst thing he could have done. 

Then we jump forward to 2010 where we begin to see how that one night has impacted the Wilf family. We find that, in some way, that night impacted Ben's career but Sarah has walked away, legally at least, unscathed. But none of them is unscathed we learn as we travel back in forth in time. And no family is without secrets, we learn as we meet the Shenkmans, who will come to play an important role in Ben's life, in particular. Through that connection, the message of the book becomes clear - everything in connected, a lesson that Waldo Shenkman teaches the Wilfs and the readers. 

Whenever I read a review of a book and the word "brilliant" is used, I will almost certainly wind up wondering why I don't "get it." It's not that I didn't find a lot to like in Signal Fires, but I've come away without the impression that it is "brilliant." Shapiro's characters are exceedingly well developed and I appreciated the movement of the book in time, the idea that people who appear to have it all can be struggling in ways that others don't see, and the way Shapiro deals with grief. But there were several points where I felt like Shapiro was expecting readers to suspend disbelief, at least one place where I felt like she dropped a detail in that contradicted what had been revealed early but never explained how that would have worked out, and, I'm sorry, but I just didn't get why Ben was so drawn to Waldo. 

I liked this one, I did. But I didn't find it brilliant. So many others did. So I can only recommend that if you think this one sounds like one you'd be interested in reading, you certainly will find plenty to like about it. And you, too, might even find it brilliant. 

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