cover image Home Fires

Home Fires

Luanne Rice. Bantam Books, $21.95 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-553-09728-3

Rice's Crazy in Love and other novels were about women with privileged lives who had problems resolving family relationships or facilitating marital communication, who needed more independence or artistic fulfillment. Here she sacrifices subtlety and wit for a more conventional romantic tale whose protagonist is a young mother cast in emotional limbo after the death of her four-year-old daughter and the loss of her husband to another woman. The narrative opens with a blaze in the childhood home of heroine Anne Davis. Anne, who has returned to this New England sanctuary to try to deal with her grief, escapes from the flames--but then runs back in to retrieve her child's possessions. She's rescued by firefighter Thomas Devlin, a man horribly scarred in a fire that claimed his wife's life more than a decade earlier. As might be expected, Anne rekindles a long-dormant spark in Thomas's heart (``Something about the woman... made him know he'd found a kindred soul. Just looking into her eyes was like living a lifetime''); in turn, she disregards his scarred features, as if to prove she's not superficial. Yet their romance seems ill-starred. Anne is snubbed by her hometown's down-at-the-heel residents, including her own sister, for being being both beautiful and wealthy--especially when her husband desperately wants her back. Indeed, it is hard to warm up to Anne, who's as precious as the tiny collages that she constructs from postage stamps. She gains sympathy because of her lost daughter, but she doesn't redeem herself to the reader until the conclusion, when she performs an act of selflessness. This formulaic romantic novel about a second chance at love lacks the spirited voice Rice's fans have grown to expect. (Aug.)