Signal Fires

Knopf. Oct. 2022. 240p. ISBN 9780593534724. $28. F
In the summer of 1985, the Wilfs—Ben, a doctor; his wife, Mimi; and their teenage children, Sarah and Theo—go from idyllic family closeness to a fractured unit in an instant. The fallout from a catastrophic car crash involving Sarah and Theo is made worse by the family’s decision never to speak of it. Over time, Sarah moves to California, juggling a successful career as a movie producer with the demands of her own family. Theo, after years cut off from his parents and sister, now owns an exclusive restaurant in Brooklyn. Ben is left to manage his beloved Mimi’s advancing dementia, finally moving her to a nearby nursing home. The one bright spot in Ben’s life is his conversations with neighbor Waldo Shenkman, whose life was saved by Ben when Waldo’s mother went into labor at home during a snowstorm. Now ten years old, smart but socially awkward Waldo, whose interest in astronomy enrages his controlling father, finds solace in his visits with Ben until twin disasters put the two families on a collision course.
VERDICT Creator of the popular podcast Family Secrets, acclaimed novelist/memoirist Shapiro (Inheritance) writes with compassion and a deep understanding of the damage that secrets wreak. Shapiro’s first novel in 15 years was well worth the wait.
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